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The Big Bang Theory Avoided Labeling Sheldon For A Good Reason

From Dr. Shawn Murphy (Freddie Highmore) on ABC's "The Good Doctor" to Julia the Muppet, who joined the cast of "Sesame Street" in 2017, there are a number of openly-autistic personalities on television. As for Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) on "The Big Bang Theory," he isn't included in this category, despite much speculation over the years.

Since the sitcom's premiere in 2007, many viewers have consistently wondered why show creator Chuck Lorre didn't officially label Sheldon as on the spectrum. On Reddit, u/manny0101-wn-wp-ffn pointed out the probability that Sheldon, like Shawn, has savant syndrome given his extreme intellect. Other fans, like u/ajaxze, believe that his heightened senses are a sign that he's on the spectrum. This user provided an example from "Young Sheldon" and said, "...he (Iain Armitage) even refuses to eat his dinner because he's able to hear a high-pitched buzzing no one else can hear. That is borderline sensory overload because I am the same." 

Additional traits of Sheldon's that led fans to believe he's on the spectrum include his strict, pattern-based routine (Saturday night is always laundry night), and severe discomfort with change, like when he must sit somewhere that's not his "spot."

Considering such feedback from fans, it seems that it would've been easy — and welcomed — for Lorre to introduce a storyline about Sheldon being autistic. However, there's a good reason why he avoided putting a label on the character.

Chuck Lorre said accurately portraying autism would've been difficult

When Freddie Highmore landed the role of Dr. Shawn Murphy on "The Good Doctor," he told the Times of India that a lot research was conducted. He wanted to ensure his portrayal of an individual on the spectrum was — and continues to be — as authentic and respectful as possible.

While Chuck Lorre appreciates the work that goes into bringing an autistic character like Shawn to life on-screen, it was also something he wanted to avoid with Sheldon. In "The Big Bang Theory: The Definitive Inside Story of the Epic Hit Series," he said, "We did not want to put a label on Sheldon ... I think not having a label gave Jim [Parsons] a great deal of more freedom to play the part as he wanted to play it, as opposed to how we might have been pressured to do for a very-real syndrome that can be difficult."

Thanks to this freedom, a number of memorable Sheldon moments are able to take place that would've been out of character if he was on the spectrum. A prime example is Penny (Kaley Cuoco) rubbing Vaseline on his chest while singing "Soft Kitty." Autistic individuals often have a high sensitivity to touch, so having someone he just met in such close proximity wouldn't be realistic.

Amy Farrah Fowler actress Mayim Bialik, a neuroscientist, weighed in on the situation during an interview with Radio Times. In her opinion, a label isn't needed, even if Sheldon is showing strong signs of being on the spectrum. "I think what's interesting and kind of sweet and what should not be lost on people is we don't pathologize our characters. We don't talk about medicating them or even really changing them."