Asperger syndrome in popular culture

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Asperger syndrome (AS), also known as Asperger's syndrome or Asperger disorder, is an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that is characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction, alongside restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests. It differs from other autism spectrum disorders by its relative preservation of linguistic and cognitive development. Although not required for diagnosis, physical clumsiness and atypical use of language are frequently reported.[1][2]

Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory[edit]

Actor Jim Parsons, who portrays Sheldon, speaking at Comic-Con.

Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) is a theoretical physicist at Caltech with an IQ of 187. He is noted for his adamant refusal to believe any other human being may match him in intelligence, nitpicking over ostensibly trivial scientific minutiae in his favorite popular culture or in the 'real world', and virtually no socialization. It has been asserted that Sheldon's behavior is consistent with Asperger syndrome, or an Asperger's/OCD co-morbidity,[3][4][5] but the writers have stated that they did not use Asperger syndrome as a basis for the character, but instead thought of his actions as "Sheldony".[4] Series co-creator Bill Prady stated: "We write the character as the character. A lot of people see various things in him and make the connections. Our feeling is that Sheldon's mother never got a diagnosis, so we don't have one".[3] Prady also allegedly told Alan Sepinwall of the New Jersey Star-Ledger that "calling it Asperger's creates too much of a burden to get the details right."[6]

In an interview, Jim Parsons noted the writers' response, but added that, in his opinion, Sheldon "couldn't display more traits" of Asperger's.[4][7] Parsons, who plays Sheldon on the series, has read John Elder Robison's memoir Look Me in the Eye about his life with Asperger syndrome, and said that: "A majority of what I read in that book touched on aspects of Sheldon." He also stated that "the way [Sheldon's] brain works, it's so focused on the intellectual topics at hand that thinking he's autistic is an easy leap for people watching the show to make."[8]

Abed Nadir of Community[edit]

Danny Pudi by Gage Skidmore.jpg

Abed Nadir (Danny Pudi) is a young, seemingly emotionless, Palestinian/Polish-American pop-culture enthusiast who aspires to become a director. While like Spock, Abed has emotion and sympathy for his new friends, he is very analytical and speaks with a rather detached and emotionless tone, as well as with a distinct straightforwardness lacking a mental filter, leading some of his friends to suspect he has Asperger's. In contrast to The Big Bang Theory, the mention of Asperger's is explicit: in the first episode, multiple characters voice their hypothesis that Abed meets the criteria for the syndrome.

Will Graham of Hannibal[edit]

In the pilot episode of Hannibal, Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) is asked "Where do you fall on the spectrum?" He replies, "My horse is hitched to a post that is closer to Aspergers and Autistics". Later, Hannibal Lecter observes that Graham is "Not fond of eye contact", in reference to gaze aversion. In the ninth episode ("Buffett Froid"), Lecter claims Graham "has too many mirror neurons."[9]

Dr. Spencer Reid of Criminal Minds[edit]

This character, portrayed by Matthew Gray Gubler, shows numerous traits indicative of Asperger's, namely his lack of social skills and his tendency to ramble about certain topics, among others. As such, he does not do well in social situations, sometimes unintentionally scaring others or causing people to lose hope about their situations. His tendencies were referred to autistic by a criminal early in the show's run. The character shows strong connections with his friends and loved ones and normally gets emotionally hurt when a friend leaves. His strong connection with certain people is also apparent when a love interest whom he had fallen for was murdered in front of him the first time they truly met (having only previously communicated through letters and phone calls due to a stalker), causing him to greive the death more than his boss grieved over the loss of his ex-wife. He also showed a strong connection to a young autistic boy whose parents were kidnapped. Gubler confirmed that the character does, in fact, have Asperger's syndrome, along with possible minor schizophrenia.

Det. Sonya Cross of The Bridge[edit]

Detective Sonya Cross (Diane Kruger) portrays a character with Asperger's syndrome. While it's not openly stated in the show, Sonya's Aspergers diagnosis is specifically acknowledged by the show's producers. [10]

Sherlock Holmes, as portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch in Sherlock[edit]

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes in the BBC's Sherlock

Sherlock Holmes, as the 60 distinct writings (four novels and fifty-six short stories) of Arthur Conan Doyle that were about him have depicted him, has occasionally been described as having traits associated with Asperger's syndrome.[11]

The BBC series Sherlock explicitly connects its incarnation of the character to Asperger's. The episode "The Hounds of Baskerville" contains the following exchange:[12]

Lestrade. I suppose he likes having the same faces back together. It appeals to his...his...
Dr. Watson. Asperger's?

River Wyles of To The Moon[edit]

River Wyles, the wife of Johnny Wyles in To The Moon, is diagnosed with a Pervasive developmental disorder, specifically showing traits of Aspergers, namely her intense interest in lighthouses (one of which she befriends and names Anna), her awkward social skills and her strong connection to her sister Isabella and her husband Johnny while avoiding pretty much everyone else. She often awkwardly changes the subject during socialization and is perceived by many of the characters as a loner and an oddball (of which Johnny admits attracts him to her). Her ability to retain information is also shown during a classroom segment, where the teacher asks her for the date Columbus sailed the ocean and she recites the date, island and founding of the island, much to the teacher's surprise.

Her tendency to take phrases literally is also shown when Johnny asks her out to a movie. After watching and waiting for a while, he sits outside the theater doors to wait for River. Just as he gives up hope, River emerges from the movie to ask where he went to Johnny's surprise. He tells her that he was waiting for her to watch the movie which confuses her and she proclaims that they were both watching the movie together before he left the theater, which makes Johnny laugh.

She is also shown to be somewhat clumsy, tripping over Johnny's feet as they dance in the lighthouse on their wedding night. She's later shown as being unable to express her feelings and thoughts to Johnny and tries to convey them to him by crafting endless paper rabbits, going so far as to color coordinate them to trigger memories rather than simply tell Johnny what she's feeling. [13]


  1. ^ McPartland J, Klin A (2006). "Asperger's syndrome". Adolesc Med Clin 17 (3): 771–88. doi:10.1016/j.admecli.2006.06.010. PMID 17030291. 
  2. ^ Baskin JH, Sperber M, Price BH (2006). "Asperger syndrome revisited". Rev Neurol Dis 3 (1): 1–7. PMID 16596080. 
  3. ^ a b "Come up with a new theory: Sheldon does NOT have Asperger's". TV Squad. August 14, 2009. Retrieved October 6, 2011. 
  4. ^ a b c Collins, Paul (February 6, 2009). "Must-Geek TV: Is the world ready for an Asperger's sitcom?". Slate ( Retrieved April 14, 2009. 
  5. ^ Soraya, Lynne. "Sheldony or Aspergery?: The Big Bang Theory". Asperger's Diary (Author's Note (08/16/2009)). Psychology Today. Retrieved 16 April 2012. 
  6. ^ Sepinwall, Alan (13 August 2009). "Does Sheldon from 'Big Bang Theory' have Asperger's?". The Star-Ledger. Retrieved 27 July 2012. 
  7. ^ Lyford, Kathy (November 13, 2008). "'Big Bang Theory': Jim Parsons -- 'Everybody has a little Sheldon in them'". Season Pass (Variety). Retrieved April 14, 2009.  Specific video is Jim Parsons interview, part 5. Question is from 03:18-3:31. Answer is from 4:36-6:00. Specific quote is from 5:15-5:20.
  8. ^ "Jim Parsons". The A.V. Club. May 1, 2009. Retrieved January 15, 2010. 
  9. ^ "Hannibal: How Bryan Fuller Approached the Iconic Character". IGN. 2013-04-03. Retrieved 2014-01-07. 
  10. ^ "FX Networks". FX Networks. Retrieved 2014-01-07. 
  11. ^
  12. ^ "Sherlock "The Hounds of Baskerville" (Episode 2.2) | Planet Claire Quotes". Retrieved 2014-01-07. 
  13. ^ Freebird Games. To The Moon. Freebird Software.