“Big Bang Theory” — Aspergers and Emotional/Social Intelligence

Asperger’s Syndrome has been deprecated in the DSM, subsumed into the “Autistic Spectrum Disorder” classification. It has been suggested that assortative mating is increasing the numbers of people demonstrating Aspergers (who we’ll call “aspies” for short.)

The stereotypical Aspie demonstrates some Savant skills: following patterns, doing calculations, programming, keeping track of large numbers of objects, or doing mathematics. Aspies are over-represented in Silicon Valley, where they are excellent employees in terms of individual work, while sometimes creating management difficulties because of their lack of social and emotional skills.

“Disorder” is not a good word to describe their condition; they are in fact highly ordered in nonsocial aspects, and there is ample evidence that their skills are valuable. They are just Different, and while they have paid a price in the past for appearing to be insensitive and not understanding the social politics all around them, technical jobs give them a place where their special abilities are valued and protected. A highly-social person who can’t handle algebra or figure out where she’s saved a file on her computer is not viewed as having an illness — so it makes no sense to pity Aspies or suggest they have a “disorder.” Their brains are organized differently, and the lack of social skill tends to be balanced by other skills useful in the physical world.

The popular TV show “Big Bang Theory” puts an obviously hyper-intelligent male Aspie, Sheldon, up against the emotionally/socially-intelligent woman across the hall, Penny. Comedy ensues. The show is so popular around the world that it’s not out of line to suggest it is single-handedly changing attitudes toward extreme geekery and Aspie traits, much as “Will and Grace” made harmless and acceptable a stereotypical flaming homosexual character, Jack. So not only is the show funny and original in mining super-geek traits for humor, it is probably educating people on accepting and valuing Aspies.

The most successful people in business combine high IQ with high EQ (Emotional Intelligence Quotient, something there isn’t a test for but is very clear when you see it.) One of the tasks of a good manager is combining the strengths of employees in teams and making up for their individual weaknesses in some areas through good management; for example, a highly able Aspie employee may be a disaster in meetings, derailing them with long monologues. A frank talk with the Aspie about the importance of brevity and speaking only minimally, with in-depth concerns to be brought up on side-channels, can reduce this problem. Another example I know personally is the employee who spends hours of every day writing long and detailed emails or posting online about topics of interest to them, while sometimes leaving a bad impression of the organization with the public; many of the long flamewars on Usenet of old were fed and maintained by Aspie employees of universities and government. Remind such people of the distinction between work time and offwork time, and of the need to keep communications that appear to be from your company or agency concise and professional.

A short note on providing less emotionally-intelligent employees assistance in performing better.

An assessment of Sheldon’s Aspie-ness by a fellow Aspie.

The producers of “Big Bang Theory” disclaim any notion that Sheldon might be Aspie, though it is highly unlikely that his friends would not have already so labelled him in the real world. http://aspergersandmeblog.wordpress.com/2013/03/25/does-sheldon-have-aspergers/

So basically, apparently lots of people have questioned whether or not Sheldon has Aspergers. Enough so that there are multiple articles out there talking about it, and the show’s creators have talked some about why they have not and will not give Sheldon that particular label. The problem is I happen to find all their reasons deeply problematic and offensive. I figure I’ll just go over them and try to unpack their problems in no particular order.

Number one on the list is that “if he’s afflicted with a real disease, how can his friends mock him the way they do?”

Alright, if that’s what they are going to declare “number one,” then that’s where I’ll start. The first problem that jumps out at me is the fact that they call autism a disease. Autism is NOT a disease, not at all, and it is incredibly offensive to call it that. Autism is a condition, a syndrome, and can also be termed a disorder as well as a developmental delay. It is not, not at all, a disease. A disease is something you have. Something that happens to you, but is separate from who you are. Autism is a difference that is there from the start, and will always be there. It is about how I think and view and interact with the world. For me, and many others, it is an identity.

And here’s Sheldon trying hard to act like a sympathetic human being with Penny:

[It’s been suggested I add a non-Wikipedia reference source on Aspergers since Wikipedia has some accessibility issues.]

For more on pop culture:

The Lessons of Walter White
“Blue Valentine”
“Mad Men”
The Morality of Glamour
“Mockingjay” Propaganda Posters
Real-Life “Hunger Games”: Soft Oppression Destroys the Poor
Reading “50 Shades of Grey” Gives You Anorexia and an Abusive Partner!
YA Dystopias vs Heinlein et al: Social Justice Warriors Strike Again
“Raising Arizona” — Dream of a Family

More on Attachment and Personality Types:

What Attachment Type Are You?
Type: Secure
Type: Anxious-Preoccupied
Type: Dismissive-Avoidant
Type: Fearful-Avoidant (aka Anxious-Avoidant)
Avoidant: Emotions Repressed Beneath Conscious Level
Serial Monogamy: the Fearful-Avoidant Do It Faster
Anxious-Preoccupied: Stuck on the Dismissive?
Anxious-Preoccupied / Dismissive-Avoidant Couples: the Silent Treatment
nxious-Preoccupied: Clingy and Insecure Relationship Example
Domestic Violence: Ray and Janay Rice
Malignant Narcissists
Teaching Narcissists to Activate Empathy
Histrionic Personality: Seductive, Dramatic, Theatrical
Life Is Unfair! The Great Chain of Dysfunction Ends With You.
Love Songs of the Secure Attachment Type
On Addiction and the Urge to Rescue
Sale! Sale! Sale! – “Bad Boyfriends” for Kindle, $2.99
Controlling Your Inner Critic: Subpersonalities
Porn Addiction and NoFAP
Introverts in Management


  1. My teen son has Asperger’s (Autism) and my 11 year old daughter does to. My middle son, who is not diagnosed with Autism, is very understanding and learns from them as much as they learn from him. It is a great combination. Great article. Thank you.

    1. Thank you! While I have a good social sense, I share enough with an Aspie to understand what they are going through. As I read somewhere while researching the article, you can practically define the difference between standard socially-inept geeks and true Aspergers by viewing the show; Sheldon is true Aspie, while Leonard (his roommate) is just a geek, capable of more empathy and social intelligence but normally wrapped up in his science. Children with Aspie tendencies should be proud of what they do well, and with gentle guidance can reason their way to enough social functioning to do very well in life. It’s great that your children appreciate each other’s strengths!

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