Does “The Big Bang Theory” Discriminate Against Autistic Adults?

 

So how many people out there watch “The Big Bang Theory,” … the CBS sitcom about four nerdy physicists who compete over one hot blond girl? Raise your hand.

Hm… a lot of you watch the show. Okay, good.

I watch “The Big Bang Theory” too. It’s a funny show and only occasionally annoying. The jokes are delivered with a great deal of snap and the characters are fun. Whenever a new season comes out on DVD I love to plop down on the couch with my parents and laugh through a few episodes while munching pizza. It seemed like a pretty inoffensive show to me aside from the occasional sex joke.

So imagine my surprise when a friend of mine mentioned that she was officially boycotting “The Big Bang Theory” because “it makes fun of autistic adults.” Say what? I asked her why and she explained that the character Sheldon Cooper was clearly a high-functioning autistic adult. “He’s always the butt of the joke,” she said, “The other characters keep talking about him like he’s a space alien or ‘one lab experiment away from becoming a super villain.’ One girl says ‘Oh honey, the bus doesn’t stop where you live does it?’ I mean, ‘The Big Bang Theory’ is clearly a joke that likes to make fun of autistic adults.”

I hadn’t thought about that. Is Sheldon autistic? I went on wikipedia and found- to my surprise- that a lot of people had already been talking about this. One psychologist went so far as to say that Sheldon was “a textbook case” of someone with Asperger’s Syndrome.

Looking back on a few episodes I guess you could make a strong argument about Sheldon having Asperger’s Syndrome… but I wouldn’t go so far as to boycott the show for being insensitive towards autistic adults. After all it does seem to me that Sheldon has all the good lines. Everyone who watches “The Big Bang Theory” says Sheldon is a favorite character. You can’t even look at an episode guide without seeing that all the plots seem to revolve around Sheldon. Difficult as he is the show and its writers love Sheldon.

So what do you think? Does “The Big Bang Theory” discriminate against autistic adults? Are people reading too much into this sitcom? What’s your opinion?

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0 thoughts on “Does “The Big Bang Theory” Discriminate Against Autistic Adults?

  • December 10, 2012 at 10:55 pm
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    I have two aspie kids. I do not feel they are making fun of them. It shows sometimes how aspie’s think. He takes things literal which Aspie’s do. Can he be a butt yes. But look around anyone can be. The thing is a Aspie will latch onto something or someone. My oldest it is dinosaurs and the technical names, my other daughter it is Pokemon right now. But they both do well in school but social situations they do not do well. Yes they have friends but they tend to stick out like a sore thumb just as Sheldon does.

  • October 11, 2012 at 1:24 pm
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    we have a son who has Asperger and he has a lot of similarities tthat Sheldon has. Its a great show and we have a great kid. Sometimes its difficult but all these funny things make life beautiful.

  • August 19, 2012 at 2:20 pm
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    I watch it because it is about the only show left that doesn’t have blacks dominating the script.

  • June 2, 2012 at 12:11 pm
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    I reconnected my hd monitor to the cable box after seeing TBT at a friends.It’s nice to relate to someone on tv, truly I had no idea I was missing that. In my view it does a pretty good job at displaying the idiosyncrasies within relations. While clearly displaying the fallacy of being a NTly skilled person befriending someone with AS. To end up prodding them with some “joke” or comment about not being so easy to handle. I feel the show does great things for me. 

    One last thought. I’m the “disabled” taught to accommodating NT expectations. 90 some percent of human communication is a foreign language to me. With no translational matrix, it was trial by fire. Yet with tools of cognitive function tools that NTs possess minimally comparable affect is generated. But how is it not the pinnacles arrogance that says that which doesn’t please my paradigm needs redressing? And if I have to catalog NT subconscious communications 24/7 just so I won’t be turned on as an impostor. I mean even I know not to liken it to analogous situations.   

  • April 3, 2012 at 7:36 pm
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    Mass media has definitely led to just about everyone making a correlation between genius and social awkwardness, or rocking in place, or staring into the void. It’s kind of ridiculous and disrespectful to true genius, which is nothing whatsoever like Sheldon Cooper, Monk, Bones, or any other television depiction. Remember the old stereotype of the brilliant but insane artist, such as Van Gogh? Well, THAT depiction was actually grounded in reality. This current fad is grounded in too much Spock, Data, Sheldon Cooper, Virginia Dixon, Bones, Monk, Sheldon Cooper and the like.

    I think it’s because it’s ‘safe’ to seem socially awkward yet gifted, whereas noone wants to be a genius at the expense of being stark raving mad. That fell out of fashion, but is still the more accurate depiction, except, of course, for 90% of geniuses who are neither stark raving mad nor socially awkward.

  • March 22, 2012 at 5:38 am
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    Well… i dont know too much about autism, but to me, it just seems like sheldon is kind of a REALLY SMART nerd that is also a comic geek. Kind of to the extreme. Not really his personality, but somehow his germaphobia and stuff reminds me of the show Monk. But monk is perceived as mentally ill. Sheldon just seems like a smart, neat nerd to the extreme. But in any case the writers were thinking of Sheldon’s character as autistic, it wouldnt be discriminating against it. The show doesnt make sheldon sound much negative despite how that might be really annoying in real life. Even if he was autistic, it wouldnt be a reason to view the show negatively, it isnt doing anything bad. If black racism was still extreme, that would be like a black guy on a show and people boycott not cuz he is on it, but because they think they are discriminating for putting him on the show. 

  • March 19, 2012 at 7:54 am
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    Someone had told me about this show, but I never saw it until today. I am on the autism spectrum, and I saw immediately that the writers incorporated virtually all the characteristics of the DSM IV Asperger’s diagnosis into this character, just as though they were checking off a list. I did think the show was sort of funny as I was watching it. People find me funny. I’ve always sort of liked that they did. 

    After reading more about the character on the Web, I am not surprised the writers would disclaim the character is intended to be Autistic. I’m sure they avoid numerous complications by doing so.

    I  didn’t actually feel hurt until I read some of the comments here, though, because I didn’t realize some people saw this character so negatively. I am now wondering whether the show makes us seem more offensive than we actually are or whether a number of people simply find us hateful.

    I guess what makes me most uncomfortable is that it’s a sitcom with a closeted Autistic. Poor character, on TV all these years, and his writers won’t let him say the word “Asperger’s.”

  • March 17, 2012 at 8:52 pm
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    Someone had told me about this show, but I never saw it until today. I am on the autism spectrum, and I saw immediately that the writers incorporated virtually all the characteristics of the DSM IV Asperger’s diagnosis into this character, just as though they were checking off a list. I did think the show was sort of funny as I was watching it. People find me funny. I’ve always sort of liked that they did. 

    After reading more about the character on the Web, I am not surprised the writers would disclaim the character is intended to be Autistic. I’m sure they avoid many complications by doing so.

    I  didn’t actually feel hurt until I read some of the comments here, though, because I didn’t realize some people saw this character so negatively. I am now wondering whether the show makes us seem more offensive than we actually are or whether a number of people simply find us hateful.

    I guess what makes me most uncomfortable is that that it’s a sitcom with a closeted Autistic. Poor Sheldon, imagine being on TV all these years, and his writers won’t let him say the word “Asperger’s.”

  • March 13, 2012 at 2:56 pm
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    I think Sheldon shows some signs of Asperger’s.  He has to sit a certain place, eat certain things on certain days etc. and gets agitated if that routine is interupted.  But I don’t think the show makes fun of it, they all have learned to accept him and do really care about him.  It is a funny show.

  • March 1, 2012 at 9:20 pm
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    They make fun of everyone in the series.  Regardless of any medical issues they have, they all have issues period and are the butt of jokes aplenty.  Sheldon is hands down the most popular character, in any case.  And anyway, “discrimination” has the connotation of exclusion.  If it was discriminating, they might be saying people with Aspergers (Sheldon or otherwise) have no place in television, period.  More offensive to kick him out, if that’s the reasoning behind it. :/

  • February 27, 2012 at 6:50 pm
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    I have a son with Asperger’s Syndrome and we watch the show and love it.  I may have undiagnosed Asperger’s as well and sometimes I feel as though Sheldon is poking fun at me.  It is a great show and I don’t take myself seriously enough to bother me.  Life is short, people need to loosen up and enjoy life.

  • February 1, 2012 at 6:49 am
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    Actually according to the writers and Chuck Lorre, no, Sheldon is not autistic in any form. He;s really just an extremely smart, yet clueless guy.

  • November 5, 2011 at 3:34 pm
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    I think “The Big Bang Theory” is an excellent show & I’ve always had the idea that Sheldon is an autist/Aspergian, to one degree or another. The 3 other guys, too, maybe, a little, but not like Sheldon. I think this character is a good way to show how such people have it more difficult in today’s world, where socializing for its own sake is demanded & where small details are dismissed or overlooked. It’s sort of realistic for this character to get picked on so much, so that doesn’t surprise me, nor do I object to it being shown that way. Still, I REALLY love it when Sheldon wins an argument–



  • October 10, 2011 at 4:06 pm
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    This is a joke right?

    Some people have too much time on their hands and have to make up crap so they have something to complain about.  Honestly.

  • October 10, 2011 at 10:52 am
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    i never noticed that and i don’t think it does at all. i don’t even think that they’re making him come off as a autistic adult. my brothers all had a group like that and there was always that 1 person who had sheldon’s personality. even one of my friends who is dating her bf, his friends – they fit in the same exact group. they can watch the show and already know who each of them basically represent. it’s a funny show that allows people who have that type of friendship and interests relate and find funny. nothing more or less.

  • October 10, 2011 at 10:41 am
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    I disagree 100%. But I don’t feel like arguing. I love this show, it cracks me up and I love re-watching my dvd’s. 

  • October 10, 2011 at 8:11 am
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    Do people just look for reasons to feel offended? I have a modest proposal for these people:  Let’s get rid of entertainment all together. That would be way more simple… all jokes are way too offensive.

    People like your friend really upset me.

  • October 10, 2011 at 12:55 am
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    i actually think it’s positive for autistic people, as it portrays him as different but still a person deserving thier respect and friendship, as well as fully functioning

  • October 9, 2011 at 10:12 pm
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    That claim is ridiculous! He’s just an ass. An ass that deserves all the flack he gets. I haven’t ever seen any indication of a mental handicap.

  • October 9, 2011 at 8:17 pm
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    There are always people on the search for things to be offended over, but I really do think BBT, like any sitcom, is just playfully poking at Sheldon(and every other character) for his quirks and general lack of social skills.  Whether or not a fictional character has Asperger’s is irrelevant.  If shows were meant to be interpreted that way, everyone who related to a character in a comedy would be offended for ‘discriminating’ against that type of person -.-

    Life would be depressing if we couldn’t make fun of ourselves!!

    PS- wonder how people would react if the writers were autistic?  Just something to think about.

  • October 9, 2011 at 7:46 pm
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    I watch it for Sheldon; he’s what makes it funny. He’s the extreme of the feelings and thoughts we all feel, but normally don’t do because we don’t take it to the extreme.

    If his character shares traits similar to someone with autism, it’s that a good thing? Maybe people will be more accepting of their quirks of them because they like Sheldon.

  • October 9, 2011 at 4:37 pm
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    At one time, I think Wikipedia also suggested that Spencer Reid of Criminal Minds also had Asperger’s, but neither the article on the series nor the character currently mentions it.  As several commenters have already mentioned, people are suggesting that Sheldon has Asperger’s because they want him to have it.

    Of course, I find it a little unnerving that I can see bits and pieces of me in all four of the guys.

  • October 8, 2011 at 11:50 pm
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    Wow, I never ever thought of ‘The Big Bang Theory’ making fun of autistic people, or people with Asperger’s Syndrome…Like many people..I always viewed Sheldon as a genius..who like Leonard & Raj & Howard [Especially Howard haha] had trouble getting girls or talking to people outside of work related or comic book issued things. I mean..if you think about it..Leonard has Star Trek [Or was it Star Wars, I can’t remember] costumes in his bedroom..& he wanted Pryia to dress up in them with him & make it realistic to the point where it wasn’t sexy. So one could argue that Leonard has some issues as does Raj..being unable to talk to girls without being drunk & Howard..who until he met Bernadette…was a real..winner, shall we say. I don’t think the show is being crass or even really trying to poke fun at people with Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome..I think they just made a show with four guys who are all brilliant & in Sheldons case -geniuses who are so logically smart; they have trouble with the non-logical things of life. Blended with comedy & snappy wit…I love this show!To sum it up: if we’re going to start looking at Sheldons character & saying it’s poking fun at High functioning adults with Asperger’s or Autism..then are we suppose to look at Howard as a sick pervert who might eventually start abducting women? [Since he lives with his overbearing mom, loves her & hates her at the same time; perfect conflict & he’s how old? ] Are we suppose to assume that Raj’s character is making fun of people with real phobias, such as talking in front of people or certain genders & the like? Is Leonard’s character suppose to be taken as a grown man who has mommy issues & likes to play dress up still?  OR here’s a better idea..we don’t look so damn hard into the characters & just enjoy the show as it is – funny brilliant & amazing.

  • October 8, 2011 at 7:51 pm
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    I don’t watch the show much but my husband and highschool age son do and I once asked my husband during the first season if Sheldon was Aspergers, and he said no that Sheldon’s hero was Spock on Star Trek and he aspired to be like him, totally logical, with out emotion.  I think the writers of the show just have Sheldon over do it for the laughs.  He is funny. The show is funny.          

  • October 8, 2011 at 6:27 pm
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    I don’t think so at all. I think it’s just a laugh at how nerdy these men are. I love the show.

  • October 8, 2011 at 5:58 pm
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    I don’t believe so. I love The Big Bang Theory, but I think that someone, somewhere, will always find something to be offended over. If anything, I think if someone wants to make a critique with him having Asperger’s syndrome, why not make it positive? He’s incredibly intelligent and leading a productive life.

  • October 8, 2011 at 3:54 pm
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    Honestly, I just thought they were making fun of people with a PhD in science.  I agree with the person that said if Sheldon does have Asperger’s, it shows that people with the disorder can lead normal lives, have careers they find fulfilling, have friends etc despite their quirkiness.

  • October 8, 2011 at 3:47 pm
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    Reading way too much into it. I enjoy the show and the character of Sheldon steals almost every scene he is in. The reactions of others to him are what I consider to be normal reactions to a person who behaves the way he does. Like someone said above, he can be a bit of an a-hole. He’s a book smart genius who has no social skills and is tremendously self absorbed. Unless that is what Aspberger’s actually is, I think it’s oversensitive to go diagnosing a fictional character.

  • October 8, 2011 at 2:03 pm
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    i think this is reading WAAAY too much into it. there is no discrimination against anyone. the characters make jokes and flip each other shit, but what group of friends(both in real live and on tv) doesn’t do that? it’s a fictional tv show. get over it. if you don’t like it, you don’t have to watch it. it’s as simple as that. people are just clearly bored and need something to complain and bitch about. 

  • October 8, 2011 at 1:26 pm
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    ugh reading way too much into it people.  Its not discriminating against anyone, yes there are jokes and some are harsh but what show doesnt have a harsh joke here and there.  If its really an issue dont watch it and stop complaining about every little thing thats not really there.  A lot of the time things are what we make them out to be and not actual issues.

  • October 8, 2011 at 1:15 pm
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    People are definitely reading too much into it. Sheldon has a higher than normal or genius IQ, he’s just really smart, they make that known in all the episodes, and in many he says his IQ is higher than normal. The fact that people are saying they’re making fun of autism makes me furious, because they aren’t. Sheldon just doesn’t know how to socialize, like many people don’t. He is also mine, as well as everyone I know who watches the show, favourite character. 

  • October 8, 2011 at 12:42 pm
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    @At_Sixes_And_Sevens@xanga – just looked up what you were talking about… that is so sad that people basically dedicated WAY too much time to messing with him… it is so sad… and his parents seriously need to limit his activity on the internet. 25 or not, he is being ridiculed… 🙁

  • October 8, 2011 at 12:24 pm
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    I know afew socially awkward SMARTIES who act like Sheldon. The dorked out guys sit with the psps, barely looking up when a girl in the group joins. I swear I could be taking off my shirt and sit down and none of them would take a second look. I just recently saw of the those drones kissing a hand of a girl so they’re dating?!?!?!? lol. I dont know enough about autism and aspergers to diagnose A FICTIONAL CHARACTER?! I doubt the producers say “HEY lets throw in an aspergers adult amongst the geniuses, they will get the ball rollings!” I Think they are just smart dorks trying to survive the regular world.

  • October 8, 2011 at 12:04 pm
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    Sheldon doesn’t have autism. Just because he has poor social skills doesn’t mean he’s autistic. People who are considered geniuses can have poor social skills, they’re not all autistic.

    People are just trying to get offended over something because they’re bored and have a different kid and want to “fight for a cause yeah!”

  • October 8, 2011 at 12:02 pm
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    They never officially say Sheldon is autistic do they? He could be a million other things. Everyone wants to diagnose someone as having autism. He could be schizoid. They’re pretty similar. He could just be highly intelligent and not get along with his peers for that reason, because he’s spent his entire life in books. There’s this huge “aspergers craze” right now and everybody who can’t hold a decent conversation is diagnosed with it.

    And if he is autistic so what? The only way to survive an illness is to have humor. People make fun of how blunt I am, because I have schizophrenia. And I honestly don’t care… it’s funny.

  • October 8, 2011 at 10:21 am
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    I think it’s just a reflection of society’s views of autistics and asperger’s people in general, i mean look at how they treat Christian Weston Chandler on the internet, and he’s a real life adult autistic person, and not a fictional character on a tv show. 

  • October 8, 2011 at 5:19 am
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    I guess I don’t read into it that much… I see Sheldon as being a genius, not autistic (not that someone can’t be both – don’t flip out!). I feel he is awkward and “odd” in the show because he of his intelligence. Geniuses often can’t function in normal society and/or do a lot of “normal” tasks. I don’t think that makes him autistic or anything else like that, I think it’s just showing an example of how a genius functions (or doesn’t function) in society.

    My older brother is a genius and has extreme issues with regular society. Instead of being awkward and funny like Sheldon, he is hateful and thinks everyone is an idiot and beneath him. He is misunderstood because of his intelligence and lack of ability to “adapt” to “dumber” people. He is not autistic or anything like that, he’s simply eight steps ahead of the average person.

  • October 8, 2011 at 3:33 am
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    Psh, this show is much harsher on Raj than Sheldon. He is more often the butt of jokes and I’m like “aw, be nice to Raj, he can’t help it!”. Sheldon deserves a lot of flack he gets, it usually is because he is clearly being a jerk. Plus, unless the writers are purposely writing the character as someone with Asperger’s rather than just a character with a certain personality that happens to “fit” Asperger’s, there is no reason to be offended.

  • October 8, 2011 at 3:03 am
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    No. There is no need to boycot this show. Some kind of irony is a good thing in a fiction show. Sheldon is a great character ,well thought, well presented, well plaid. Next have to  House too, I suppose.
    What is wrong with irony? Comics have done this forever.

  • October 7, 2011 at 11:46 pm
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    @keystspf@xanga – Yeah, I agree. I’ve never met someone in real life who was an Aspie though I do have a friend whom I suspect has Asperger’s. But yeah, we’ve all been the butt of jokes at some point in our lives so I guess no biggie.

  • October 7, 2011 at 10:59 pm
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    I totally picked up on the fact that he probably represents someone with Aspberger’s. AND he’s funny as hell! I like how it shows that he could be a fully ‘functioning’ intellectual adult, and have friends that accept him as they should, quirks and all.

  • October 7, 2011 at 7:42 pm
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    If you watch the show you know that Sheldon is no victim! In fact, he is usually calling the shots in the group.  His character is kind of an asshole so making fun of him is well-deserved. 

  • October 7, 2011 at 5:42 pm
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    No, it doesn’t discriminate against Aspies… If anything it shows a milder version of real life where people can be downright MEAN about it. If Sheldon is autistic, it just shows how well someone with AS can do for himself. Yeah, he’s occasionally the butt of some jokes, but who isn’t? What real life person is not at some point in his or her life, the butt end of a joke? Who doesn’t playfully tease their friends when they say something “stupid” or miss something that “should” be obvious? I catch that kind of teasing all the time. I miss sarcasm. I respond to things that are supposed to be jokes as though they are serious, and some things that are supposed to be serious, strike me as really funny. (Especially when there’s a play on words involved.) 

    I like Big Bang Theory. It’s one of the few sitcoms I have actually found funny. And Sheldon is 9/10 of what makes it funny. He makes jokes all the time, but unless you share the frame of reference, it just seems like he quotes useless trivia.

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