Life on the Spectrum

I don’t often watch sitcoms, but I keep hearing people tell me that I absolutely have to watch The Big Bang Theory because one of the characters, Sheldon Cooper, seems to be autistic. I decided to look up some quotes from Sheldon to find out more.

When Sheldon’s friend Leonard says to Sheldon, “It won’t kill us to meet new people,” Sheldon says that it could kill them, because they could meet a serial killer or somebody who is carrying an exotic disease.

When Sheldon hears the term “friends with benefits,” he says that it sounds like one of them should be providing the other with health insurance.

When asked how he feels about Facebook, Sheldon says that he’s a fan of anything that replaces human contact.

One time, Sheldon is working when there’s a knock at the door. Leonard asks, “Sheldon, would you like to get that?”

“Not particularly,” Sheldon replies.

“Sheldon, can you get that?”

“I could, if somebody asked me.”

“Sheldon, would you please get that?”

“Of course. I don’t know why you have to make it so complicated.”

The producers of The Big Bang Theory won’t say in the show that Sheldon is autistic, because people would not feel comfortable laughing at autism. Autism isn’t funny.

I disagree. I think autism can indeed be funny. I would prefer it ,though, if people were not laughing at me but laughing along with me when I see the funny side of autism.

Many of us autistic people take things literally. When you think about it, why don’t more people take things literally? Obviously, if you say, “It’s raining cats and dogs,” you don’t mean that small furry animals are literally falling from the sky, but why do we say that in the first place? It’s a silly thing to say!

I heard somebody say that they didn’t believe in flu shots, and they weren’t happy when I pointed out that it was very obvious that flu shots exist, because the pharmacy had a sign that said you could get flu shots there.

My partner asked me why I didn’t phone my mother on her birthday. I said “Because I sent her a card, and she told me that I don’t have to phone her if I send her a card.” My partner said, “She probably didn’t mean it that way.” I asked, “If she didn’t mean it, why did she say that?” He said, “Oh, this is an autism thing! You’re being literal!”

A friend of mine took her autistic son to the doctor because he had a cut that had become infected. The doctor wrote a prescription on a piece of paper, handed it to the autistic boy and said, “Put this on your cut twice a day.” The boy wanted to know how it would help him to put a piece of paper on his cut.

A common joke on autism pages on the Internet is “You know you’re autistic when…” For example, you know you’re autistic when you’re planning to go out, but you wait until none of your neighbours is outside before you do, because you hate to make small talk. You know you’re autistic when your grocery shopping takes twice as long as it does for other people because you’ll only walk down the aisles that don’t have people in them. You know you’re autistic when there’s a particular coffee shop you like to go to, you always sit at the same table, and there better not be anybody sitting at your table when you go there, because it will mess everything up. You know you’re autistic when you know the names of all the cats and dogs in the neighbourhood, but none of the people. You know you’re autistic when you read that a band that bills themselves as “the loudest rock band in the country” is going to be playing an outdoor concert in your city, and you decide that you should go out of town that day.

Sometimes humour can help me deal with people who have misconceptions about autism. I used to love to read Mad magazine’s “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions.” I have made a list of what I call snappy answers to stupid things people say about autism.

Sometimes people will say that I am not really autistic, and that I am using autism as an excuse to be rude. If somebody says that to me, I’m going to ask them what their excuse is for being rude. If they say that I have to call myself a person with autism instead of an autistic person, I will respond by calling them a person with rudeness.

People will say to me, “You don’t look autistic.” If somebody says that to me, I will say, “And you don’t look ignorant, so I guess we’re both wrong.”

I have had people say that I am too intelligent to be autistic. That’s when I say, “And you are too intelligent to be so uninformed about autism.”

Autistic children can be funny and be self-advocates at the same time. When I was at a conference, I heard the story of an autistic boy who wanted to ride the school bus with all the other kids in his neighbourhood, but the school district had health and safety rules that said he had to take a taxi to school. Every day, he would watch the other kids get on the bus, and he would say “Bus.” His mother would take him to the taxi, and he would say, “No, bus.” One day, he finally got tired of the grownups not listening to him. When the taxi arrived at school, the taxi driver got out of the car to open up the door for his passenger. The boy then locked all the doors in the cab, locking the driver out. This was in the Yukon in winter time. The driver, the school teachers, and his mom all asked him to unlock the doors, and he continued to say, “No. Bus,” until they finally agreed that yes, he could ride the bus.

Finally, here is my favourite autism joke:

A man is flying in a hot air balloon, and he’s lost. He lowers himself over a field and calls to a someone in the field. “Can you tell me where I am and where I’m headed?”

“Sure. You’re at 41 degrees 2 minutes and 14 seconds North, 144 degrees 4 minutes and 19 seconds East; you’re at an altitude of 762 metres above sea level, and right now you’re hovering, but you were on a vector of 234 degrees at 12 metres per second.

“Amazing! Thanks! By the way, are you autistic?”

“I am! How did you know that?”

“Because everything you said is true, it’s much more detail than I need, and you told me in a way that’s no use to me at all.”

“Really. Well, are you a clinical psychologist?”

“I am, but how the heck did you know that?”

“You don’t know where you are. You don’t know where you’re going. You got where you are by blowing hot air. You put labels on people after asking a few questions, and you’re in exactly the same spot you were 5 minutes ago, but now, somehow, it’s my fault!”

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Comments on: "What’s So Funny About Autism?" (6)

  1. You’re hysterical, much like my son who is an aspie 😉

  2. I loved reading this post, and the joke at the end is laugh out loud funny.

  3. Although people like to see Sheldon as autistic (specifically Asperger’s), Jim Parsons has stated he isn’t playing Sheldon as any particular ASD but does incorporate some aspects of Asperger’s into the character. I do look at Sheldon as an Aspie because he reminds me of my Aspie friends, to some degree or other.

    I’m elsewhere on the spectrum but I have many of the same traits as Sheldon, so some things I find funny and others not. The level of humor I see in Sheldon’s actions, and the reactions of his friends, is heavily dependent on my personal experiences with the same actions and reactions. For example, when I act in a particular way and the reaction isn’t “Oh, that’s just the way he is” but “Why don’t you just (insert self-improvement phrase here)” it’s not funny, and it isn’t funny on the show either because I don’t get to experience it that way.

    But that’s fine; I do see the humor in the situation even though I don’t always appreciate it. I react the same way when watching any sitcom’s romantic situation go haywire because one of the two people involved does something foolish to jeopardize the relationship and it’s obvious to everyone except the poor fool who did the foolish thing. I try to remember any form of comedy is the exaggeration of real-life situations for comedic effect and isn’t meant to reflect reality. Still, if it hits close to home it’s hard not to react to it.

  4. I used to watch a lot of Big Bang Theory, but I don’t anymore. I find it too grating. I wish I could write a sitcom about a bunch of autistic people and their one neurotypical friend so that person could be the butt of all the jokes.

    I don’t know if any other people on the spectrum feel this way, but sometimes the issue for me is less that I don’t understand what people are saying (when I appear literal-minded) and more that it’s sort of a verbal processing issue? Sometimes I understand what people are saying but there’s a delay before I figure out what I want to say, and it makes me look like I don’t understand what people said…even if that’s not the issue. And it’s frustrating.

    Learning more about what people are trying to say has put me in a more awkward position, because when I was younger and I really didn’t understand a lot of figures of speech people were saying, while that certainly wasn’t a *good* thing (and I’ve spent years trying to overcome it), I guess it was more straightforward. But now I feel like I do understand more, but it’s almost as if I grew up speaking French and I’m in a world surrounded by English speakers, and it’s like, well, I’m really good at English for someone who grew up speaking French (hypothetically – this is still a metaphor), but do I get credit for that?

    And when I try to get close to someone, I feel like I have to switch back over to my native language or I won’t feel authentically present, I won’t feel like I’m being honest, but often to be someone that is taken seriously by neurotypicals, I feel like I have to present a certain way and speak in their language. So I feel trapped between the two modes, like I can’t survive without presenting myself as something that I’m not, but when I need to be honest about who I am, I feel like people won’t be ready for it…

    The other day I ran into someone else who was on the spectrum, and when he found out I was an Aspie, the first question he wanted to know was, “how old were you when you got diagnosed?”. He didn’t get a diagnosis until age 10 or 11 (mine was much earlier) and he said I was “higher-functioning.” That was funny to me – that is Aspie humor – because my ability to be better at passing at neurotypical has brought me as much anxiety and depression and insecurity as anything else. I don’t regret doing what I have needed to do to survive and be part of society, but at the same time I have to laugh at the idea that it’s all peaches and cream because I appear “higher-functioning.” As if I don’t spend every minute of every day worrying about how I’m going to come off, as if the mental toll that takes on a person doesn’t exist. That genuinely makes me laugh.

  5. Jean Carroll said:

    Hilarious! I really enjoyed this post xx

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