A Glasgow teacher was told to watch the television sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” as a guide for learning about students with Asperger’s syndrome, a Scottish educator recently told members of Scotland’s parliament.
“Oh, I was told to watch ‘The Big Bang Theory,’” replied the teacher, Haughney said.
Whether characters in the sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” have Asperger’s — particularly the lanky Sheldon Cooper, a theoretical physicist who boasts an IQ of 187 — has been a matter of some debate.
Writers of the “Big Bang Theory” said that they are reluctant to give Sheldon an official diagnosis, worrying about a potential conflict between the sitcom premise and an accurate portrayal of Asperger’s syndrome. Show co-creator Bill Prady “would feel uncomfortable labeling Sheldon as such,” according to TV critic Alan Sepinwall at the Star-Ledger.
But that has not kept some members of the autism community from embracing Sheldon.
Kerry Magro, an autism advocate writing in a blog post at Autism Speaks, noted Sheldon’s “attention to detail, repetitive actions and a lack of social skills” as characteristics that may be common to those with Asperger’s. Magro said that in his work as an advocate he commonly fielded questions about whether Sheldon has Asperger’s syndrome, and says the character is a positive representation of someone with autism-like traits.
Sheldon occasionally speaks in non sequiturs and displays eccentric behaviors. An early episode shows Sheldon becoming distressed, for instance, when he finds his usual couch seat occupied by the newcomer Penny.
(Sheldon explained that, “In the winter that seat is close enough to the radiator to remain warm, and yet not so close as to cause perspiration. In the summer it’s directly in the path of a cross breeze created by open windows there, and there. It faces the television at an angle that is neither direct, thus discouraging conversation, nor so far wide to create a parallax distortion.”)
When asked if his character had a form of autism spectrum disorder, Jim Parsons, the actor who plays Sheldon, told the Irish Times in 2015 that, “It’s a difficult question.”
“Very early on I was asked by a reporter whether Sheldon had Asperger’s. I wasn’t sure what that meant. I asked the writers and they said no,” Parsons said. “He has Asperger traits. But their saying that took away a social responsibility.”
A responsible portrayal or no, Haughney, a 34-year veteran instructor and representative of Glasgow’s Unison union, was disappointed that “The Big Bang Theory” was used in lieu of more traditional training.
Haughney told the Education and Skills Committee that specialized instruction in the past included “direct training from a psychologist, from a speech language therapist, to give us a knowledge and an understanding” to prepare teachers to work with students who have additional needs.
“That is just gone,” Haughney said, according to the BBC.
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