The Autistic Journalist

Using words to explain the mind

Elementary, my dear Aspie?

with one comment

Did Sir Arthur Conan Doyle have a leg up on the rest of us with his most famous literary character?

I have yet to see Sherlock Holmes, although I do intend on viewing it this week as I hear Robert Downey, Jr. helps carry the film from a so-so production to an above average one. I’m a sucker for actors who can make something out of material that is otherwise unimpressive.

Prior to the film’s release, Dr. Lisa Sanders examined the character penned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as she ponders the idea of Doyle capturing a psychiatric disorder long before medical experts detected it. Those of you training for Jeopardy! will be interested to know that Doyle trained as a physician at the University of Edinburgh, later transferring his medical knowledge to the many stories he wrote featuring Holmes and Watson.

Speculation of Holmes’ mind isn’t new, with fans and scholars suggesting he either has bipolar disorder or Asperger’s Syndrome. Even if Asperger’s loses its classification status, Sanders notes that the patterns of intense focus and social awkwardness generates parallels of parents whose children display the same qualities. The argument about Holmes and autism is based on a suggestion from the director of the autism program at the Yale Child Study Center. The director says the fundamental quality among all autism cases is “mind-blindness,” the inability to empathize what others feel or think, complicating the process of forming relationships. Sanders points to a few examples in “The Hound of the Baskervilles” to back up this point.

The article is primarily a speculative piece about the Holmes character. Given its publication date, the theory of writing the column to generate buzz for the movie is plausible, although no references to the film are made. An equally plausible theory is Sanders using the past to study the present, a fairly common tactic in the journey to understand autism. Although the correct answer will remain hidden from view, the possibility that some of our world’s historical figures, real or fictional, saw the world from a much different perspective can assist in demystifying the plagues of the present. At the very least, studying our history adds another example to add depth to a disability that, for many years, was interpreted solely through the eyes of Raymond Babbitt.

The Holmes method of solving mysteries is still very much alive as Sanders points out. Without Doyle’s contributions, present-day characters like Gregory House of House and Temperance Brennan of Bones (coincidentally, both FOX shows), with their parallels to Asperger’s Syndrome, may not be so fascinating. The Asperger/House connection was explored in an episode of the series.

The common thread among the characters, and one lesson that can absorbed through the article, is that we may all benefit by working with supposedly frustrating “bohemians.”


Written by TheSportsBrain

December 27, 2009 at 11:49 pm

One Response

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  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and bringing this article to light. If Dr. Sanders intent was to break down some of the steroptypes that surround individuals on the autism spectrum, then I would agree that looking at the past is very helpful in moving forward.

    It wasn’t until my son reached the age of ten that I started to realize how much in common we really had. As he has matured, alot of his autistic charecteristics brought back memories of my own childhood and the similarities between us have become uncanny. Becoming more aware of my own idiosyncrasies has become extremely helpful for me. More importantly, I’ve realized that this will make me a better parent to my son.

    I would argue the mention about a lack of empathy for others, yet I understand all too well how not possessing a strong theory of mind can complicate relationships. It seems to me that mind blindfulness could actually exagerrate the ability to empathize… as often, one might make an assumption that others share their level of emotion about a situation when in fact…they do not.


    December 30, 2009 at 8:58 am

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