The Autistic Journalist

Using words to explain the mind

Sheldon Cooper’s got company

with 3 comments

Before you ask, no one on The Big Bang Theory has said Sheldon Cooper is officially on the autism spectrum. So what other connection could possibly exist? Hardcore fans may recall Sheldon enrolled in college at the age of 11. While the subject profiled in a TV story for MyFOX Atlanta (the local FOX affiliate) has aged another year before doing the same, the future North Georgia College and State University autistic student is no less an intellectual prodigy. George Franco, the reporter assigned to the story, highlights Alex Beach’s fluency in Japanese and Latin, his music composition and his chess skills. For a student who went blind in one eye due to a young childhood disease, calling him a visionary might be an understatement. His mother said Alex could have started college at age 10, but she and her husband decided to hold him until this June to develop Alex’s social skills.

The 12-year-old also takes martial arts training, with his mother serving as his instructor. His mother says the physical and social contact of the sport assist Alex with his autism spectrum disorder, and she will commute with him daily when his college classes start. Alex will be on his own, but the school will be ready to provide assistance. Alex’s mother also told Franco that not allowing his intellect to grow could have adverse side effects, even if he doesn’t act his age socially.

Alex’s intellectual abilities may ring parallels to Sheldon Cooper or Raymond Babbitt’s skills exhibited in Rain Man, but such skills are statistically rare in autistic people. Estimates suggest only 10 percent of the autism population possess above-average IQ in a particular subject, and a documentary produced 10 years ago on Discovery Channel reported that savant skills can deteriorate with the growth of knowledge of other subjects processed in the brain (nothing recent has refuted that theory). This area of autism isn’t linear either; many success stories of autistic people aren’t necessarily due to outperforming most peers in a certain subject, but folks like Alex reinforce the sometimes buried benefits an autism diagnosis grants its inhabitants.

As I’ve mentioned before with TV news, time constraints and the characteristics of the medium don’t often allow in-depth stories. Franco features only Alex and his mother for the story, yet his limits don’t restrict him from spilling out why Alex could most likely kick our butts on Jeopardy!. While unexplored plot points do exist, including where and how Alex caught up with his social skills to assist his adaptation to college (a stage in life some 18-year-olds aren’t always ready for), television is about showing the meat of the story hard and fast. If additional time remains to explain secondary plots, then television journalists will make the exploration. Otherwise, the focus is efficiently informing the audience why they should care about who gets TV time. However, Franco indirectly highlights the positive role of involving autistic children in activities with his fact about Alex’s martial arts training.

There’s a good chance Alex will receive more TV time in the future, as his bright mind will only expand in college. His story is growing riper for a medium increasingly eager to find more “pedestals” in the community, and this journalist can theorize Alex Beach will eventually be categorized in a long list of autistic people who could school us on material we thought was mastered. The key for future stories is displaying those talents while balancing the human element that exists, even inside the autism community.


3 Responses

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  1. Alex would probably make for a good Sunday show story.

    (At 6pm we have these profile stories, as well as information stories).

    Channel 10 in Melbourne often shows FOX-originated content.

    And I agree with Alex’s Mum on intellect. Especially when intellect and social skills don’t work together. It’s a similar approach to Darold Treffort’s Teaching the Talent. (and the Savant Skills Curriculum).

    Love the Martial Arts angle of the story. I have just been looking at some magazines about it from Blitz.

    And he did all this without so much as a HOPE scholarship. They are the big thing in Georgian education.

    Adelaide Dupont

    May 13, 2011 at 9:13 pm

    • At least now I know you call Australia home. Ready for winter over there? Is there a site for that show?


      May 13, 2011 at 9:40 pm

      • Something interesting (which I have observed over the years with news feeds and sources):

        Channel 7 often shows ABC (American Broadcasting Corporation) material
        Channel 9 NBC and CBS
        and Channel 10 Fox as I said earlier.

        And of course all three commercial channels (as well as ABC [Australian Broadcasting Commission] and SBS [the Special Broadcasting Service] show Reuters-sourced stories.

        It already feels like winter, Mike! And has done for quite a while. “Real” winter might be less than 10 degrees Celsius.

        Here are the people who make Sunday Night happen (Note the Yahoo7! connection).

        It is full of innovative transcripts and blogs.

        Adelaide Dupont

        May 15, 2011 at 12:05 am

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