Sometimes it’s as if I live with Sheldon Cooper. If you don’t know who Sheldon is, that means you haven’t discovered the CBS hit comedy The Big Bang Theory. (So get on that. Right away. It’s hysterical.)
Sheldon, played by award-winning actor Jim Parsons, is a brilliant physicist characterized by his quirky OCD tendencies, total lack of social skills and inability to grasp social nuances such as sarcasm. His over-the-top adherence to routine and inability to show emotion are central to many episodes.
Sheldon has Asperger’s syndrome, an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Okay, the show’s creators have never said officially that Sheldon has Asperger’s, but trust me, he does. Oh, how he does.
To clarify, Grant does not have Asperger’s. He was diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder called Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. And no, I am not making this shit up. That’s really what it’s called.
Three years ago, he was reassessed at Christine Sarkine Autism Treatment Center at Riley Hospital for Children. Dr. Christopher McDoogle changed his diagnosis to Autism after observing and interacting with Grant for several hours (plus about a billion other tests and an interview with me). Grant is not classically autistic in my eyes because he can be quite social. But Dr. McDoogle gently reminded me that there is no such thing as classic Autism. Well, outside of Hollywood.
Speaking of, plenty of parents to special needs kids get upset over the portrayal of Autism Spectrum Disorders on the big screen.
I am not one of them.
Sure, liberties are taken. I know that. But because of shows like NBC’s Parenthood or The Big Bang Theory, people know these disorders exist and have some understanding of the challenges they cause. And that’s a start.
And I promise you – there is some Sheldon in my Grant. Take the recent haircut episode. Sheldon discovered his regular barber was hospitalized and thus unavailable. Missing his haircut “day” caused a tragically funny spiral into chaos for Sheldon. That has totally happened to Grant. Not that he gives a rat’s ass what the lady’s name is at Great Clips that usually cuts his hair, but if she is not there, he flips out. He needs at least a week to prepare for something like that, and even then, it is hard to bounce back.
And the hilarious scenes when Sheldon knocks on Leonard’s door repeatedly, saying his name again and again – not realizing how annoying it is? Grant did something similar last night. He was finished with his shower and called out “I am done!” This is supposed to be my cue to instantaneously appear to help him out (because a Grant on one leg is not an upright Grant).
I had a few things going on and couldn’t get right there. So for about 3 minutes he yelled, “I am done,” over and over without hardly a breath in between.
It’s a lot funnier when Sheldon does it.
Let’s take slang or common social phrases. Like Sheldon, they mean nothing to Grant. Here are three real-life examples I’ve heard Grant say:
|“For crying out loud!”||“Cry me out the door!”|
|“You’ve got to be kidding me!”||“You’ve got to be joking to me!”|
|“You’re driving me crazy!”||“Lily made me drive crazy!”|
And the best ever was when he once told my husband, “Mike, you’re really pissing me out!”
I think it’s okay that The Big Bang Theory creators haven’t labeled Sheldon. In a way, it helps viewers appreciate him for his Sheldon-ness instead of a diagnosis label. Because as we all know, a label is only that. It doesn’t define us.
If you’ve read my blog before, you know humor is big for me. I hope I haven’t glossed over the not funny stuff, though. There’s a lot of it. My best friend’s little girl was recently diagnosed with Asperger’s. She’s a beautiful little first grader with fabulous corkscrew curls. Anna is as smart as she can be. And because she’s such a smart little cookie, she’s been able to compensate pretty well in school for the developmental and social areas where she struggles. That’s why the school says she doesn’t need an IEP (special education plan to address her Asperger’s). She’s apparently doing just fine.
But she’s not. Everyday is hard for her. For example, Allie just told me that she doesn’t eat at school anymore because the noise in the cafeteria is too overwhelming. She waits all day without any food and then scarfs down her lunch in the car on her way home. And when her routine is changed at all, she just shuts down.
It’s atrocious to me that Allie may have to get an attorney to get her daughter the IEP she needs and deserves. Asperger’s is very real, and can be devastating. I see Allie struggle and Anna struggle and the impact on their family.
Asperger’s isn’t funny all the time. Sometimes it’s frustrating. And other times it breaks your heart. It completely, totally, devastates me to think of this lovely little girl sitting in the cafeteria unable to eat.
Here is what I will tell you though, about Allie. She does still laugh. All of the time. And so do I.
This is the woman that I remember sharing with me a concern over a developmental milestone her son hadn’t met yet. Grant was a toddler at the time. I responded, in a reassuring tone, for her not to worry because Grant hadn’t met that milestone at that stage either.
We paused in silence for a moment, letting the absurdity of my statement sink in.
I can’t remember her exact response, but it was probably something like, “Care bear, I’d give that child a kidney today, but I gotta say, he’s not exactly the poster kid for childhood development.”
And Allie, if you’re reading this, I’ve known you for 25 years and I know where your organs have been. So I am not so sure I want my child to have one of them. But I love you for the offer.
And now, back to Sheldon. Maybe by understanding that Sheldon has to sit in the same spot on the couch every single day, you will better understand that Grant has to sit in the same bus seat every day. Or that when Anna gets overstimulated she might start doing a weird dance reminiscent of Elaine on Seinfeld.
Or maybe you never gave it that much thought. Maybe we should all just watch Sheldon and laugh.
Because if there is one thing I have learned from all this – if we stop laughing, we’re totally fucked.
And that, my friends, is the truth about Sheldon.