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    TV Characters with Asperger’s Syndrome

    Descriptions of the average roommate from hell runs the gambit from self-centered, to entitled, to just plain lazy. The newly premiered show, Not Dead Yet, however, has taken this trope one step further.


    In the pilot, the main character, Nell, a down-on-her-luck reporter starting over, is stuck living with the prototypical Craigslist roommate, a man who brings passive-aggressive post-it notes to a whole new level. What both audiences and Nell come to find out, however, is that Edward is a self-described “Aspie”.

    Asperger’s Syndrome affects as many as 1 out of 250 people. Among other things, people with this condition often have difficulty with social skills. Their interests are narrow, their routines strict, their behavior borderline repetitive. They’re also more likely to have average or higher-than-average language and intelligence scores.

    Normally, those affected can adapt enough to just be considered… quirky.

    It is important to note that the condition has been recategorized in recent years to fall under the Autism Spectrum (ASD), an umbrella term that includes Autism, Asperger syndrome, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder.

    As Edward from Not Dead Yet puts it, he both does and doesn’t have it.

    For Edward, this means he, like Nell, is not always the best roommate—his need for structure and routine and his inability to change course make him difficult to get along with. For him, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do things… And there’s not much in between. Lucky for him, he has the equally-poor roommate Nell at his side to help.

    As knowledge of the condition has spread, so has the number of those with the condition, both on TV and in real life. While having a quirk or two is nothing to worry about, the actions of the following characters rumored to share this syndrome definitely affect both themselves and those around them—with often entertaining results.

    For the purposes of this list, we’ve focused mainly on the characters who have been confirmed through cast or crew sources to have Asperger’s Syndrome.

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    Max Braverman—Parenthood

    Max Braverman in Parenthood
    NBC/Peacock/Universal

    Easily touted as one of the best interpretations of Asperger’s on-screen is that of Max Braverman, played by Max Burkholder in the acclaimed series Parenthood.

    Inspired by executive producer Jason Katims’s experience with his son, the show also drew upon experts and research to display Max in the most faithful way possible.

    According to parents of those on the spectrum, Max’s scenes, while at times hard to watch, are heart-wrenching and realistic. His eye contact may be limited, but his frank and insightful observations of the world around him are, at times, uncomfortably accurate.

    As he grows up throughout the course of the series, we see these social interactions evolve to include issues like dating. Because of this, this well-rounded perspective of the Asperger’s experience stands the test of time.

    Related:Best Movies About Parenthood, Ranked

    Maurice Moss—The IT Crowd

    Richard Ayoade as Moss in The IT Crowd
    Channel 4

    While all the characters of the IT Crowd are known for embracing their weirdness, it is Maurice, played by actor Richard Ayoade, who stands apart as a likely member of the autistic community.

    While perhaps not as well known, he is still, in no short order, hilarious. A computer programmer relegated to the basement of his company, his facial expressions are consistently flat, he has a difficult time following conversations he’s not interested in, and he cannot tell a lie for the life of him.

    The best part of this representation is how unapologetically true to himself he remains throughout the series, a note that the autistic community has taken wholeheartedly in stride.

    Dr. Sheldon Cooper—The Big Bang Theory

    Jim Parsons as Sheldon in The Big Bang Theory
    Warner Bros. Television Distribution

    When it comes to showcasing a neurodiverse cast, it can’t hurt to have an actor with a Ph.D. in Neuroscience on the call sheet to answer a few questions. Enter Mayim Bialik, Ph.D., who plays Amy Farrah Fowler on The Big Bang Theory.

    In a conversation with Neil deGrasse Tyson, Bialik said that while all the show’s characters are on the neuropsychiatric spectrum, Sheldon is thought to have either Asperger’s or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

    After reading Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s, Jim Parsons, who plays Sheldon, has said he saw his character in several of its moments. “…The more I’ve heard about it or talked about it with people who know more about it than I do, it seems that Asperger’s is not such an uncommon thing for extremely smart people to have. Or, like Sheldon, to have aspects of.”

    One humongous caveat to all this—co-creators Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady have repeatedly denied that Sheldon is on the spectrum. While not official, it is hard to deny the attempt at neurodiverse representation within this cast.

    Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler—The Big Bang Theory

    Amy
    CBS

    The autistic community maintains a soft spot for Amy Farrah Fowler, a character who yearns to be social, but has a hard time doing so in practice. Her limited showcase of emotions and focus on the literal make her not only a great comedic foil, but an apt description of women with Asperger’s. It’s true, after all, that men are more likely to be diagnosed with ASD, with the prevalence being nearly four males to every one female diagnosed.

    Said Bialik of the character’s quirks, “…What’s interesting for those of us who are unconventional people or who know and love people who are on any sort of spectrum, we often find ways to work around that. It doesn’t always need to be solved and medicated and labeled.”

    Related: Why The Big Bang Theory Remains Popular Today

    Dr. Temperance Brennan—Bones

    emily-deschanel-bones
    Fox

    While the long-running TV show Bones has never explicitly confirmed that forensic anthropologist Dr. Temperance Brennan is on the autism spectrum, the disorder is heavily implied. When asked, they prefer phrasing such as Asperger’s-Adjacent. That being said, the show’s creator, Hart Hanson, has said in interviews that he based the character on a friend with the condition.

    A large part of why this was never labeled on the show itself boils down to the network.

    Actress Emily Deschaneltold Entertainment Weekly that if the show had been on cable instead of Fox, her character would have likely been diagnosed onscreen. “I’ve heard from younger people who are on the spectrum or have Asperger’s themselves that they loved seeing a character who was not dissimilar from them portrayed on television, so that makes me happy to represent that. I know we weren’t truly representing someone with Asperger’s exactly, but there are qualities that Brennan has.”

    It should be noted that the series of books the show is based on does not show its main character in this light.

    Detective Sonya Cross—The Bridge

    Diane Kruger Talks The Bridge Season 2 Finale | EXCLUSIVE
    FX

    Sonya Cross, The Bridge‘s main female lead, has an intense focus, an avoidance of eye contact and trouble with empathy, all of which are focal points of Asperger’s.

    This is by no means an accident. Saga, the main character from the series the show is based on (Danish/Swedish series Broen/Bron), is also purported to be on the spectrum. The American team, however, took this one step further, explicitly stating that Cross has Asperger’s in the press notes for the show.

    In order to play the role, Kruger actually arranged for a consultant through Autism Speaks. Said Kruger of prepping for the part, “I had to shift my point of view of the world from someone who’s living with Asperger’s.”.

    Jerry Espenson in Boston Legal
    ABC/20th Century Fox/Ion/Walt Disney

    Meant to represent a caricatured version of the real-life character in Look Me in the Eye, Jerry “Hands” Espenson’s condition took on its very own storyline in season two of Boston Legal.

    While his social issues, wavering eye contact, and intense focus were textbook, his rage-fueled moments were decidedly not. That being said, Christian Clemenson, who played Espenson, still won an Emmy Award for Best Guest Actor in a Drama Series in 2006 for the role.

    The humor Clemenson brought to the position of a man struggling to navigate social niceties made Jerry Espenson and Asperger’s a synonymous household name.

    Dr. Virginia Dixon—Grey’s Anatomy

    Deep Pressure
    Disney+

    Grey’s Anatomy has often been criticized for its portrayals. Dr. Virginia Dixon as the resident autistic doctor is among them, and for good reason. For one, many of the traits she displays align far more closely with autism than Asperger’s.

    That being said, since Asperger’s is now considered a component of the Autism Spectrum, it is clinically possible to share traits with both. Her rigid insistence on phrasing and terminology and her super-specialized interests are certainly indicative of this. In one memorable scene, she even uses a form of deep pressure therapy in the form of hugging to help her emotionally reset.

    Dr. Isidore Latham—Chicago Med

    Chicago Med Surgical Team
    NBC

    Dr. Isidore Latham of Chicago Med is an example of a man who fills a lot of buckets—he’s African-American, Jewish, and of course, recently diagnosed with Asperger’s.

    The truth is, he’s in good company. It’s suspected that for every three patients diagnosed with ASD, another two will go undiagnosed.

    In a telling on-screen moment in Season 2, Latham confesses his newly discovered condition to new recruit Dr. Rhodes. “I’m not revealing this to elicit sympathy from you, or as a means to justify my behavior. I simply feel it might be beneficial for you to know.”

    In this doctor’s case, it gives him an interesting perspective when it comes to resolving moral dilemmas with both patients and staff. One controversial plot point, for example, includes Dr. Latham asking a co-worker to administer Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) known colloquially as shock treatments, in hopes of being able to better understand human emotion.

    Related: Best TV Medical Drama Series, Ranked

    community abed
    Sony Pictures Television

    While Abed Nadir of Community’s Asperger’s status is heavily implied throughout the series, it was never been officially confirmed. His hyper focus, limited interests in anything outside popular culture, and inability to pick up on nuanced social cues, however, make him a dead ringer for the disorder. His inability to interpret facial expressions and body language alone should place him solidly on the spectrum. The way he finds a place within his community is, in a word heartwarming… and downright hilarious.

    In an odd twist of fate, while researching the role, Creator and Showrunner Dan Harmon actually found out he was on the spectrum too.

    Astrid Farnsworth—Fringe

    Astrid from Fringe
    KVH Media Group

    While not a part of the series as a whole, Fringe should be noted for creating an autistic version of lab assistant Astrid in one of its many alternate universes. Her lack of eye contact, specialized focus in math and science, and limited emotional range are key indicators of the syndrome, which actress Jasika Nicole knows all too well. She was actually able to draw upon personal experiences with her sister, who is also on the spectrum, while playing the part.

    Sherlock Holmes—Sherlock

    Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes
    BBC One

    Sherlock, Sherlock, Sherlock…. Though there have been ample iterations of the famous detective, it is the BBC’s Sherlock that first mentions the possibility of him possibly having Asperger’s. A self-proclaimed “high-functioning sociopath” throughout the series, counterpart Dr. John Watson describes him as having Asperger’s in season two’s The Hounds of Baskerville episode.

    While his hyper-focus and social insecurities do mimic that of a person on the spectrum, he lacks repetitive movements or stimming by being erratic. That being said, looking at this famous character through a neurodiverse lens does bring new humanity to the character as a whole.

    Brick Heck—The Middle

    The Middle

    While Brick Heck of The Middle has never been officially diagnosed with Asperger’s, he does display many of the traits associated with either high-functioning autism (which is no longer a diagnosis), or Asperger’s.

    Rather Sheldon-like in his mannerisms, he has a small army of specialized interests, most of which stem from a love of reading (the Planet Nowhere books are his favorite). Friends can be difficult to come by for him, though he does make connections with his fellow ASD classmates and develops a relationship with a rather unorthodox girlfriend.

    Whether his difficulty stems from wanting to make friends, but not being able to, or simply having no interest in friendship is unclear. This same myriad of traits makes it difficult to put a finger on just what it is that makes him different… So instead, we’ll describe him as his teacher does—“clinically quirky.”

    Dr. Spencer Reid—Criminal Minds

    Matthew Gray Gubler as Spence in Criminal Minds
    CBS

    Dr. Spencer Reid is the genius of the Criminal Minds bunch. Not that the other characters in his circle aren’t intelligent… it’s just not their one defining trait quite like it is for Reid.

    While Reid’s high IQ and ability to read a ridiculous number of words per minute certainly help him stand out, whether they make him autistic is yet to be seen. The answer here is a hard maybe.

    That being said, Matthew Gray Gubler, who played Reid, seems to think so. In interviews, he has self-diagnosed the character with everything from schizophrenia to autism. Unfortunately, not much of the other traits are on display throughout the series, beyond him being to the point and blunt.

    Show creators had also initially hoped to portray him as bisexual, a thought which was unfortunately nixed around episode four of the show.

    Sugar Motta—Glee

    Sugar Motta and Cast
    Fox Network/Walt Disney Television

    Buckle up, this one is a bit problematic. When Sugar Motta of Glee first appeared on the scene, fans hoped her self-diagnosis of Asperger’s would be representative of the condition. Unfortunately, what they got was much different.

    Instead of exploring social skills, sensory issues, or hyper-specialized interests, when Sugar Motta is first introduced to the audience, she blames her need to insult those around her on her condition, saying “I have self diagnosed Asperger’s so I can pretty much say whatever I want.” Self-diagnosis aside, this could have been a great way for the show to play with themes of care and acceptance. Future series take note.

    Related: Glee’s Kevin McHale Won’t Play Artie Again, Says He Shouldn’t Play a Character in a Wheelchair

    As you can see, pointing a finger at this condition is tricky, and unfortunately, the same can be said of real life. It’s estimated that as many as 50% of people with AS remain undiagnosed. Whether this is because we know more about it or if the actual number of cases has increased is yet to be seen.

    What is important, however, is that both those diagnosed and those still searching for answers can find solace in seeing someone like them represented on the small screen. Thankfully there has been an uptick of shows that do just that.

    Even better, some employ those who are considered neurodiverse. For example, Rick Glassman, who plays Edward on Not Dead Yet, is also on the spectrum. Prior to this, he was cast on As We See It, a show about three ASD roommates, alongside two other leads who are also on the spectrum, like him. While the show (which was about three roommates with ASD), was unfortunately canceled after one season, it was one in a series of like-minded shows willing to utilize neurodiverse talent.

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