Big Bang Theory’s Autism Simulation

I just posted this over on Tumblr, but wanted to share it here as well.

I’ve criticized The Big Bang Theory for things like its ongoing obsession with fat jokes, its casual sexism (OMG, girls don’t read comics/play D&D/etc), the handling of Sheldon’s autistic/OCD issues, and an ongoing sense of laughing at geeks instead of with us.

But I want to give a shoutout to something the show did recently in “The Itchy Brain Simulation.” Leonard discovered a DVD he had forgotten to return for Sheldon, and started worrying about how Sheldon would react. Because we all know Sheldon can’t let anything go, and would be completely annoying and freak out about the unreturned DVD, right? And then we the viewers can all laugh at the neurotic genius and ask why his friends put up with him.

Only it didn’t play out that way. Sheldon countered by asking why Leonard didn’t consider how annoying and difficult these things were for him. As far as I know, this is the first time Sheldon’s ever stood up for himself in this way. He took it a step further, saying he’d remain calm about the DVD … if Leonard wore an itchy sweater he had gotten as a gift until the DVD was returned.

Animated gifs ahead. (I did say this was being copied from Tumblr…)



I loved it. I love that this show is finally acknowledging that it’s not a matter of Sheldon just being annoying. His brain works differently. As annoying as he comes off to his neurotypical friends, their habits often have the same effect on him. Only he’s outnumbered, meaning he’s getting stress from multiple directions all the time. And the narration consistently sympathizes with his “long-suffering” friends.

The writers are unwilling to label Sheldon’s character autistic, but the actor says that to him, “the character of Sheldon is very autistic in nature.”

My son is autistic, so this is personal to me. Seeing Sheldon used as the butt of various jokes rings too close to some of what my son deals with at school.

So seeing Sheldon challenge Leonard to walk in his shoes, and seeing Leonard completely fall apart because he didn’t know how to cope with it, was huge.



The episode wasn’t perfect, and still had some problematic issues, but I thought this storyline was amazing, given what we’ve seen from the show in the past.

Thank you for this episode. I really hope this newfound understanding continues.