I am not Sheldon Cooper

Benny Netzer


Autistic people are often described as being “not disabled, but different.” As someone with autistic symptoms, I have an idea of what that means. I have trouble sometimes dealing with social interactions and reading facial and emotional cues, such as when I’m talking to someone and they employ sarcasm, and I perceive it as a genuine statement, but I’ve also quickly grasped mathematics and science, and readily take on any systematic area, with a particular fancy for language.

Such autism is portrayed on the TBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory in the character Dr. Sheldon Cooper, an autistic physics prodigy who earned his PhD when he was sixteen, maintains a high-paying job at the California Institute of Technology, and even has a girlfriend. Such a high-functioning form of autism may be seen as fictitious and often offensive. In fact, my mother, author Lydia Netzer, wrote an essay for a website called The Autism Support Network, in which she attacks the show “Young Sheldon” for propagating a stereotype she calls “cute autism.”

To many mothers of autistic children, such as Lydia Netzer, this kind of “cute autism” doesn’t delve deep enough into the way autism works. Autistic children may offend people regularly, cause physical harm, and in general cause people to feel extremely hurt. My mother believes that the show is setting an unrealistic example of how autistic people may behave, stating that parents should not use Dr. Cooper as an example of all autistic children. But I believe that Dr. Cooper’s diminutive autism and personal growth is a good starting point for discussion of this condition.

Firstly, there is more than one kind of autistic person. I have been cursed (and blessed) with Asperger’s Syndrome, which simply comes with autistic symptoms as opposed to being a full-on case. Other children, on the other hand, must wear helmets because they’re disoriented, or are entirely incapable of speech. Autism is often incorrectly correlated with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), which may be because some autistic children prefer a particular pattern to follow rather than a taken-for-granted lifestyle.

These different varieties of autism are placed on a “spectrum”, often visualized as a wheel or a rainbow, which describes which areas a child will exceed in, and which areas they will falter in. A child may have terrific language skills, but poor motor and social skills, or above-average perception, but a serious learning disability. This is why Autism is sometimes referred to as ASD, or Autism Spectrum Disorder.

I have hyperlexia with Asperger’s Syndrome, which is placed on the “high functioning” end of the spectrum. I often obsess over very specific areas, such as traffic circles, the Russian language, or, at a very young age, different varieties of toilets. Given this disorder, I often have trouble socializing, reading facial cues, or expressing myself in a “non-robotic” way. I have been known to throw fits and completely misunderstand certain scenarios.

Though it may seem like a hindrance at first, it does come with its perks. For instance, ever since I was born, I’ve had perfect pitch. I’ve had an accelerated grasp on science and mathematics, and I can understand patterns and systems integrated into our daily lives. In short, what I lack in communicative skills, I handily make up for in applicable social, physical, and musical science. This makes me ideal for solo projects, given that my ideas are usually self-contained.

Nobody is ever told how they appear, especially if it’s in a negative light, so I can’t say for sure how my outward appearance affects my social group. However, I do know a person who has autism in my college chemistry class. I’ve never learned his name, but we affectionately call him “C-man” (he said “C” when asked to convert the speed of light from feet per minute to meters per second). My classmates particularly enjoy making fun of C-man, but I often relate to him and understand the challenges he must go through.

Seeing how my friends treat C-man gives me an idea about how people might see me. They probably make fun of me the same way, talking about how much I may stutter or move clumsily or talk about physics. This makes me relate to Dr. Cooper, given the fact that his friends often make fun of him and his autistic nature, such as regularly sitting on the far left-hand side of the couch, naming the stars as he goes down the stairs, and knocking three times. I myself walk across the floor in a knight-type pattern (moving in an L shape like the chess piece), speak certain phrases in my made-up language when entering rooms (Yravora, Dongit tit Itshdola, Vargit tsat shoz), and always keep a whiteboard handy.

Sometimes I am jealous of how easily Dr. Cooper is forgiven for his actions. He has been known to be extremely obnoxious, racist, sexist, and, in general, inconsiderate of other people’s feelings. In her essay, my mother claims that Dr. Cooper doesn’t destroy any relationships, despite this. However, he does destroy relationships time and time again, says hurtful things, and often ruins his life. He devastates his friends, calling them out for not having a PhD, being incompetent, or being Indian, he acts inappropriately in the work environment, and does everything that a regular autistic person would do (except hit anybody, which he actually does in self-defense).

The difference is that Dr. Cooper’s relationships are always replenished by his friends, rather than himself. His roommate helps him restore his relationships with most of his friends, while his mother helps him get his job back after he disrespected the university president, makes him apologize to his neighbor, and help him cope with a breakup.

Dr. Cooper has never once solved a problem by himself, which is why it works. Most autistic children work the same way, with their mothers at their sides, mending every awry social interaction by stepping in and helping the child make the right decisions. Often, the mother might interject with the statement that the child is autistic. I’ve had situations where my judgement was poor, and my own mother had to help me figure out what the proper action was (she did not have any influence on this paper). Without her and my friends to help me, I wouldn’t have as strong a relationship to all of them, and I would’ve most certainly hurt their feelings.

My mother was an important parental figure in my life, helping me through my quirky childhood, but when I read her essay, I’ve decided that it’s time for me to stand up for what I really believe in. It’s time for me to make my own decisions and outgrow my condition.


Related Articles


Being an parent, and being on the autism spectrum

When I was little, I had many obsessions. One of these was buses. I would spend days riding around on the buse ..

read more

My nickname was retard: Autism and how I survived bullying

“When everyone else has given up on you, it’s hard not to give up on yourself.” Struggling with learning ..

read more

Short Film: Force of Habit

Tamsin Parker is a 24 year old artist and animator on the autism spectrum, who has Asperger's Syndrome. She gr ..

read more

Our Support Community


Join our free support community and connect with thousands of other families and individuals touched by ASD. Find out what’s working for others, coping strategies, and life guides from others living what you’re going through now. Click here to join for free!

Resources in Your Area

Looking for autism resources nearby? Check our listings for professionals and services that might help.

Post your services | Help out in general

Events


European Congress on Autism
Zagreb - Croatia
Mar-14-2019 - 09:00 am
EUROPEAN CONGRESS ON AUTISM: Understanding Autistic Mind to Raise Autism Awareness Conference dates: March 14-15, 2019 Conference venue: Zagreb, Croatia (https://autism ..
Go to Event site

view all events