I was out to dinner with one of my graduate school classes a few weeks ago (sponsored by the professor), and was sitting at the end of a table with a few of my classmates. We got onto the subject of being picky eaters (as one might, in a fancy restaurant with a multiple course meal), and after some conversation, one of my classmates said “Oh, so you’re like a female version of Sheldon!” (from The Big Bang Theory) Well yes, I am, and I am not, too. I like to describe myself that way sometimes, because it helps people to understand me better, and gives them an idea of where I’m coming from without me having to go into one of my rehearsed (and never well-received) long lists. That show has done wonders for those of us who are “stereotypical aspies” – people watch the show and they realize that there are people in their lives who are like Sheldon, and that they deserve to be treated as people too.
The Big Bang Theory is my favorite TV show, and the only one I watch in general, since I don’t have a TV and I get overwhelmed by most shows anyway. I love the show because of Sheldon, and have, believe it or not, learned a great deal about how to interact with people from the show, by learning from Sheldon’s mistakes and successes, since they are often spelled out for the viewer explicitly. I keep being told by people that the show is not actually about Sheldon, but about Leonard and Penny, but for me it’s all about Dr. Cooper. Although there are some things that I don’t like about the show (for example, how the women are portrayed*), I really can relate to Sheldon’s struggles to understand and interact with the world around him. Sheldon and I are alike in a lot of ways…
We know random facts that we like to (verbally) spew out during conversations. I’ve been described before as a “walking encyclopedia”, and I know that sometimes it’s given as an insult, but I am rather proud of it. My brain is a giant supercomputer. I gather facts and data throughout all of my day-to-day life, and I file it away. I am able to recall many interesting facts about things based on keywords. No, not everything I have stored in my brain is remarkable, but usually it is relevant. I am told by my friends that they always learn something when they’re talking with me. I am proud of that, and I strive to learn something from whoever I am talking with as well.
We are very particular about our food and our “spots” and our clothes. Sheldon’s spot is defined by where the air moves in his apartment. My “spot” is designed so that I am not taken by surprise as often when sounds happen. In a classroom, this means I find a place where I can concentrate on the professor and learn to filter out the other noises. In my office (which is shared with 8 other people), I have a back corner desk, where I can look out across the whole room, and am able to prepare myself for when a door opens or closes, or a person moves around. We are both clumsy and not move around rather awkwardly.
We both need a “sarcasm” sign. One of my friends and I developed a little hand signal that she gives me if someone is being sarcastic to me. I’m grateful for this in conversations, but she’s not always there. I wish there really was a “sarcasm” sign. Or that people spoke in italics. I am also ridiculously ignorant when people make sexual references, though through keeping a long list of things that people say that I don’t understand and looking them up on urbandictionary.com, I am caught unaware less often these days. And I do have a bad habit of stopping conversation to ask what something means when I get lost. We both have a desire to be friends with people, but don’t often go about it in a very “acceptable” manner.
We both are hyper-literal and mistake the meanings of many figures of speech, but those that we have mastered, we use quite often, and sometimes inappropriately, because, in fact, we haven’t mastered them at all. We use large words that most people don’t understand. We both have extreme issues about lying and have an obsessive need to tell the truth. We have scripted-sounding language, and are vested in our routines, and we get lost and confused when something changes. We have little stereotyped rituals and behaviors that must be taken to completion. We are both have above-average intelligence (though I am probably not quite as smart as Sheldon), and are extremely dedicated to our fields of science and our special interests. And we both go about mastering social interaction clumsily, and by rote, often to whoever is watching’s great amusement.
But then again, I am not like Sheldon, and constantly work extremely hard “pass”. I have learned to control myself in many social situations. I am able to stop my stims and behaviors mid-way, if there is a need (though at great cost to my brain’s functionality), or not start them at all. I do not actively point out everyone’s faults around me, even when they’re glaringly obvious (though sometimes I mess up), and I don’t say things like “I’m smarter than you” aloud. I like to think I have mastered some of the finer parts of human interaction. And I am certainly not nearly as obnoxious as Sheldon can be. But I really enjoy the show, and am so happy to see a character in pop culture celebrated, rather than ostracized or infantilized for his quirks. Wouldn’t it be an amazing world if we didn’t have to play the social bullshit game** all the time and could just be, the way that Sheldon is portrayed? I know the show isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty good, and that’s a step in the right direction.
*Another post for another time. There will probably be several posts about The Big Bang Theory…
**The Social Bullshit game is a concept a friend and I came up with my freshman year of college to describe neurotypical social interactions.