Welcome back to Understanding Dr. Sheldon Cooper. Today, we start season 2 and will cover the first six episodes. Many of the episodes highlight the same symptoms and struggles individuals with autism face and will be discussed in brief. Further detail will be discussed later, in topic specific posts.
We do not see any major signs of autism in this episode. We see Sheldon struggle with the social aspect of keeping a secret and the emotional distress to which this leads. Many have a false belief that people with autism do not, even cannot, lie and that this is why Sheldon has a problem keeping his secret with Penny. However, anyone who has read memoirs of individuals with autism–or worked directly with individuals with autism–knows that lying and keeping secrets are definitely possible.
Sheldon and his friends attend a renaissance fair. Sheldon is upset with the historical inaccuracies and points several of those inaccuracies out to his friends. His friends do not care about truth versus fiction and just want to enjoy the festival. Like many individuals with autism, Sheldon has high knowledge on what most people would count an obscure subject area. Due to this high knowledge, he wants everything about the subject to be accurate and seeks the opportunity to point out his knowledge and fact from error whenever the opportunity arises. Sometimes, he will bring up his knowledge when the situation does not call for it, thereby annoying his friends (more on that in later posts).
The opening scene finds Penny locked out of her apartment while Sheldon is home playing a computer game. Sheldon asks if Penny would prefer to wait in his apartment until the locksmith arrives. Penny responds with “no Sheldon, I’d rather sit on this freezing cold floor sobbing like a three-year old.” What is meant as sarcasm is interpreted literally by Sheldon and he begins to return to his apartment. Sheldon only recognizes the statement as sarcasm as Penny rushes past him to enter his apartment.
Many people with autism have difficulty with sarcasm. They have a hard time recognizing it, deciphering the intended meaning of the words, and knowing the difference between giving a sarcastic/facetious comment and telling a lie or harsh insult. Part of this problem may be due to a comorbid communication disorder (e.g., social communication disorder) or due deficits in Theory of Mind.
Raj receives a big honor from People Magazine and flaunts his success in front of Sheldon, Howard and Leonard. Sheldon has difficulty responding in socially appropriate ways. He criticizes People Magazine for picking Raj, as well as the accomplishment that got Raj the spotlight. We see Sheldon struggle with other social cues and protocols throughout the episode that Howard and Leonard have to help him navigate.
As with sarcasm/facetiousness, many individuals struggle with navigating the various social rules of society. Theory of Mind plays a big role in this struggle. Check out the page on Theory of Mind (more on this will be discuss in a separate post).
This episode highlights the insistence many individuals with autism have at maintaining a routine and resistance to change (this will be highlighted in other episodes this season as well). Sheldon is driven to work everyday by Leonard. Leonard’s schedule changes and he tells Sheldon to find other arrangements to get to work, which Sheldon refuses to comply. This leads to problems in Sheldon’s daily routine (comic book night, soup for dinner, etc.) and puts strain on his relationships with others. The gang tries to get Sheldon to learn to drive, but Sheldon does not respond well to the idea (and shows us he may not possess the skills to do so). Many individuals with autism rely on schedules and routines. Teachers often need to give students with autism visual schedules to keep them on task, and provide updates to those schedules in advance if a break in routine is to take place smoothly.
In this episode, Sheldon is approached by a grad student who wants to help him with his latest paper. The grad student offers to take Sheldon to dinner, which he refuses. Sheldon says he does not visit unknown restaurants (lives in fear of the three-tined fork), but lists what he eats on that day of the week. Like we saw in Episode 5, Sheldon likes routines and sticks to them as often as possible. We see his routines of Halo night and paintball interrupted later in the episode and his reactions of displeasure (he even tries to get Leonard and Penny to get rid of the grad student). Routines help an individual with autism stay focused and productive, but also allows for control in a personal sphere that often lacks it.
So far this season we have seen examples of lying/secret keeping, special interest areas (SIAs) and high knowledge areas, understanding sarcasm/facetiousness, social cues, routines and resistance to change. These are recurring themes throughout the season and show, and we will see more examples (and others) when we explore episodes 7-12. Stay tuned for more from Season 2 of Understanding Dr. Sheldon Cooper.