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The Big Bang Theory, Neurodiversity and the Promotion of Science as Something Worthy of Attention

May 31, 2011

The Big Bang Theory is a great show for promoting both science and acceptance. It’s a favorite show in our household, and all three of my children, who are at various spots on the autism spectrum, find something appealing in the show, see some aspect of themselves in the quirky social misfits. My daughters’ favorite, though, is Sheldon. Lily in particular adores Sheldon and wants to be like him. She wants to understand his job, what it means to be a theoretical physicist, and how to think like he does.
By promoting science and scientists as interesting and fun, this show does a tremendous service in the promotion of scientific literacy. By making these quirky, offbeat characters very real and very approachable, the show also celebrates neurodiversity and makes it easier for children like mine to see that there is a place for them, that they can create strong friendships bound by common interests and learn to be accepting of others’ quirks and that others will love and accept them, too.

We love The Big Bang Theory here and regularly indulge in TBBT marathons, which we’ve been doing this weekend (season three this time). Lily’s passionate about Sheldon and about equations. Many of her drawings are punctuated with E = mc².  Last night, she lit upon the equations in the clip above and is demanding to learn what they mean. She faithfully wrote some of them down on her white board; she still wants white boards as big as Sheldon’s and she’s still aggravated that in one episode he threw one out the window instead of erasing it. “That was very autistic of him,” she said to that. I pointed out that one could say the same of her intense irritation and need to bring it up every time she writes on her own white board , especially given it occurred in an episode she watched months ago.

Despite my three children’s ASDs and my efforts in the online autism community and in real world volunteering for Autism Speaks, autism isn’t something we’re steeped in here, not something that controls our every action, but upon occasion the need to understand something about each other and their quirks or about themselves brings up a discussion of autism and how it’s defined. It’s never an excuse for bad behavior, but it comes in handy for explanation and understanding and increasing empathy for others.

So now we have F=mama=mg, and her ever favorite equation on her board. And in comes Frankie, who chose to use her board as if it was his woobie.

(ignore the mess, but somehow laundry, the Wii fit board, white boards and cats blend together)

In the process of lying on it, he partially erased it. Lily walked into the living room this morning to see her beloved white board covered with the cat and had a bit of a hissy over it, which led to Frank retreating to his basket in a huff and Lil repairing the damage to her board while we talked about the equations and what they mean. She has some serious frustration with c, by the way. It makes no sense to her that c stands for speed of light; sol makes better sense, she says. Hard to argue that. (a commenter at blogger pointed out that c = constant and problem was fixed)

Did you notice the transporter in the background?

I have a feeling we’ll be having lots more of these discussions this summer and in the coming years, if her love for science continues (and I hope that it does). We’re doing geek camp together this summer and will be indulging Lily’s passion for equations and trying to tie meaning to them. We’re also going to study astronomy, too, as well as biology. And Lil and I are working through Benjamin and Shermer’s Secrets of Mental Math.The kids are looking forward to geek camp, although they insist we must have the weekends off. After all, even Sheldon and the gang stop to play games. 🙂

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