Sheldon is so loved that asteroid 246247 “Sheldoncooper” was named after him and in 2012, a newly discovered species of bee was named Euglossa bazinga, after his noted catch phrase, "Bazinga!" But as much as we love him would we be as patient as his room mate Leonard when it comes to dealing with him on a daily basis?
Many of Sheldon’s quirky behaviours display life living with someone who has Aspergers Syndrome, with a bit of OCD thrown into the mix. His take away food is always the same meal, and his eating schedule of Tuesday night’s at the Cheesecake Factory and Thursday night’s pizza from Giacomo’s is ridged. I have not once seen him cook.
His relationships are unique but understood by all around him and his work at Caltech as a theoretical physicist is highly precise and pure “genius”. Sheldon possesses an eidetic memory, a masters, two PhDs and an IQ of 187. But does that make him successful?
The reality is that he chooses not to drive a car, he can be highly offensive and racially prejudice, cannot function outside of his regular routine and his relationship with his girlfriend has not progressed past girl/friend boy/friend status. Living with Sheldon is not easy. I’m not sure if I would have signed the “room mate agreement” but I understand how useful it is to have the rules in black and white for an aspie.
As I look at my boy’s obsessions and rituals I do wonder which of their quirky behaviours will follow them into adulthood. How many of their odd habits can be trained out of them and which quirks are important to keep as part of their “personality”.
Food is probably the most difficult quirk we have to deal with on a daily basis. We have our routines, Wednesday after swimming is KFC night and Saturday is Pizza and Family movie night. Every other night of the week is a stressful mélange of three different meals needing to be cooked to strict precision. Getting the boys to eat a healthy diet is mostly hoping that the “nutri” in nutri grain is enough to sustain them.
Last Friday was a sleepover night at school for our 8-year-old Bailey. The menu had pizza for tea. As he only likes one type of pizza from one particular restaurant we had to make special arrangements for the “right” pizza to be delivered.
Earlier in the year Casey went on his first school camp. Two days and three nights. His asthma had been very unstable so the school decided it would be best if I went along. From my perspective the camp was three action packed days of fun and adventure. And cooking. Casey’s meals were so different to everyone else that I had packed a cooler bag full of food and had to cook all of his meals so they were just right.
So what do you feed a child who doesn’t tolerate wheat or corn and is allergic to dairy, eggs, fish, nuts and peanuts?
Breakfast – Soy yogurt, a “Big Ted” biscuit and a green apple (won’t eat red).
Morning Tea – Two “Big Ted” biscuits and water.
Lunch – Cold pepperoni slices and apple juice (his specific brands).
Dinner – Cooked Strasburg, hash browns and Soy Ice cream for desert.
He ate the same menu for all three days. He was happy. I was embarrassed.
We have over the years tried to change Casey’s food tolerances. Meal times can often be very stressful. If his food has a “black bit” on it, the whole plate is tainted. One week the supermarket didn’t have his regular brand of chicken nuggets and the new ones are just too terrifying to even try. Casey’s anxiety levels will skyrocket from his food phobia and the resulting on demand vomiting is just too much to deal with on a daily basis. On our pediatrician’s advice, we now don’t stress about which foods he eats. Even though there is little variety in his diet, there are enough food groups covered. Plus there are always vitamins, lots of vitamins.
We may not be winning with food but we’re slowly getting there with social language skills. The boys say please and thank you, although regularly need reminders. Casey is learning not to say every thing out loud that pops into his head, even if it’s “just being honest”. Aspies often have little regard for how others may feel so teaching my boys that language can be interpreted as positive and negative is a mission of mine.
My mission does seem to be working though. Bailey loves to encourage others. He’s become a speedy Gonzales of the roller skating rink of late and he loves wheeling up to kids who are just learning and patting them on the back with a “good job!” Unfortunately he hasn’t quite learnt that a 16 year old may not enjoy the encouragement of an 8 year old and a “pat on the back” coming past at warp 9 may be enough to send a newbie skater flying!
I’m hoping that the boy’s enjoyment of skating and judging distances between obstacles (other skaters) will one day help them to be better car drivers. I assume that they will all one day get their drivers licenses and be completely independent. Free to pursue their passions and live their lives, well, at least feed themselves.
I’ve already started to teach Casey to cook his favourite foods. Although reluctant at first he’s now mastered noodles with soup. I thought I’d get in early with that one, as I know from uni days it can be a great cheap staple. As much as I know the boys would love to live off takeaway food, they may not end up being a theoretical physicist like Sheldon. Although I wouldn’t rule out Bailey becoming a theoretical constructionist!
So if the writers of The Big Bang Theory continue to label Sheldon as an undiagnosed aspie then where did his character come from? His character is apparently inspired by a computer programmer that one of the co-creators knew. Probably the most famous town in the world, Silicon Valley, is full of people with Aspergers Syndrome, and computer programmers. Temple Grandin, the world’s most famous autistic woman, says Silicon Valley is full of “Happy Aspies” – people with aspergers syndrome who do not have, or want, a diagnosis.
“I think Steve Jobs was probably on the spectrum; Einstein definitely would be today. I don’t name the live ones. But you can go online and look at the interviews of the heads of Silicon Valley companies. The major big companies. And you can see it.
You know, I’ve talked to several retired NASA space scientists. And they said, “Oh, I have a grandson that has autism.” You know what? I think half the people that ever worked at NASA were on the spectrum.” Temple Grandin – July 2013.
It is comforting to know that there will always be places like Silicon Valley and NASA where being quirky and socially awkward are considered normal. A place where aspies can be happy as their world is totally routine and predictable. A place where having an obsession with one thing can be a really, really good thing. My boys may not make it to Silicon Valley or NASA but if I can raise them well I’m sure there will be a Caltech equivalent that they can one day call home.