Yes, I’m seven seasons late to the beauty that is CBS’ The Big Bang Theory. The comedy won one of its lead characters, Dr. Sheldon Cooper, a third Emmy this year in addition to his wins in 2010, 2011. Yet I’ve just discovered what a gift the show is to the community of people who have an interest in Asperger Syndrome. It is aspie cool to the nth degree.
Actor Jim Parsons portrays Dr. Cooper, a gifted, gawky and genuinely lovable geek who exhibits some of the traits that can be associated with Asperger Syndrome: aloofness, inward focused, eidetic memory, discomfort in unfamiliar settings, the love of routine. The genius of the character and his place in the show is that he has a strong social group of peers who help him navigate the tricky world of interpersonal relationships. Oh that such social groups were the norm, not the exception.
Finding the right social group, one that you not only fit into but that makes you a better person, a higher achiever and moves you ever further toward self-actualization is sometimes an elusive goal for the person with an Asperger diagnosis. One-on-one relationships often can be easier than navigating group situations. Yet depending on one person for the bulk of your social activities can be limiting and disappointing, especially if schedules don’t mesh and opportunities to get together are minimum. That’s true even for people not on the spectrum and those who have no trouble meeting and connecting with new people.
A number of groups have sprung up to help anybody and everybody make social connections. Several are geared to young adults. Meetup.com is a great starting place to find an affinity group. Perhaps you love anime or videogames or cycling or outdoor adventures. Whatever your taste, there seems to be a Meetup to suit it. There’s even a specific Asperger group Meetup. Just go to the website, put in your Zip Code and you can find a group that gathers near you. Beyond that, churches, community groups, workplaces and the pages of your local newspaper or favorite local news website often provide information about activities and social groups that might appeal to you.
It’s no longer “Unfinished Business” for one of the most engaging race teams in the history of the show. Undone by the samba and bikinis, Zev Glassenberg made TV history as the first contestant with Asperger Syndrome to take on the always grueling yet fantastically adventurous race around the world. The team challenge is replete with trials, chores, roadblocks and puzzles that test the mettle of the mightiest and bring some of the smartest to tears. Yet friends Justin Kanew and Zev cheerfully stuck out each leg of the race determined to make good on a second chance to win a million dollars — and avoid the mistakes of last season that torpedoed their earlier efforts. Zev deserves special recognition for shining a positive light on Asperger’s and helping the world grow in its understanding of it..
I learned a new word today: coulrophobia. The abnormal or exaggerated fear of clowns, according to Wikipedia. This particularly phobia was the subject of a segment by Mo Rocca on CBS’ popular Sunday Morning show with Charles Osgood. But it made me think about all the other fears – rational or not – that we encounter in life. For young adults, the fear of not making one’s mark on the world ranks right up there. The fear of not finding the right mate, the right career, the right spiritual and social connections are all part of that larger fear. Psychologists say that underlying the fear of clowns is concern about what lies beyond the painted face. There are many unknowns as we enter new interpersonal relationships, new jobs and new social environs. If we let our phobias rule, paralysis can set in. But if we are willing to take a risk and put ourselves out there, we might find a great adventure beyond the painted surface.
Artist Stephen Wiltshire took to the sky in late October 2009 to draw the Manhattan panorama with the exquisite and precise detail for which he is renown. Wiltshire, who studied Fine Art at City & Guilds Art College in London, completed the project in one week on a 20-foot canvas. You’ll be amazed and delighted at the specificity with which he draws. Diagnosed with autism at age three, Wiltshire’s work is now known the world over. He has written a number of books, been the subject of several documentaries and news features, and drawn stunning panoramas of Rome, Hong Kong, Frankfurt, Madrid, Dubai, Jerusalem and London.
Zev Glassenberg gave the “Amazing Race” all he had. But on Sunday, the 26-year-old man — who became the first “Race” contestant with Asperger Syndrome — was eliminated from the competition. Ironically, he and his friend Justin Kanew actually were the first team to arrive at the pit stop in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. But somewhere during this leg of the journey from Vietnam, they lost their travel documents, which meant they could not continue the race. Thanks to Zev for having the courage and enthusiasm to follow his dreams. And thanks to CBS for using well this opportunity to shed some positive light on Asperger’s and autism. I started watching this season with much trepidation about how the subject would be treated. But I was pleased at the respect shown to the topic and to the man. Much success, Zev, in all your future endeavors.
I admit it. I’m nervous about how TV will portray Asperger Syndrome through the character of Zev Glassenberg when “Amazing Race” kicks off at 8 p.m. ET Sunday on CBS. Every commercial and story about the new season of “Amazing Race” mentions Glassenberg, 26, an unemployed sports fan who lives in Sherman Oaks, California. You can follow him on both Facebook and Twitter. Zev and his racing buddy Justin Kanew even have their own website. But television’s entertainment programming has done a poor job of creating a realistic picture of Asperger’s. I literally cringed when “Boston Legal” introduced its Asperger character a few years ago. The fictional Jerry Espenson is a brilliant corporate attorney played by actor Christian Clemenson. Jerry walks awkwardly with his hands strangely arranged in front of his thighs. His closest pal, at one time, is a lifesize doll. He draws a knife on a colleague. Clemenson won an Emmy for the role in 2006. But the portrayal did much to give the world an inaccurate view of Asperger’s. Maybe this time will be different. “Amazing Race,” after all, bills itself as a reality show. Maybe this time entertainment TV will actually serve up a realistic look at Zev as he makes his way across eight countries in 21 days in a quest to win $1 million. “Race” did a good job last season with deaf contestant Luke Adams and his mom Margie. I’m hoping for a repeat with Zev and Justin.