Asperger’s syndrome may now be an outdated term for one point on the autism spectrum, but it still has a place in popular culture and literature. In the newest TV depiction of Sherlock Holmes, actor Benedict Cumberbatch depicts the famous detective with most definite Asperger-like qualities.
Speaking of Sherlock Holmes, one mystery writer seems to have gotten it right. Jeff Cohen, writing under the pen name E. J. Cooperman, describes his lead character like this: “For Samuel Hoenig, Asperger’s isn’t so much a syndrome as it is a set of personality traits.”
Cohen has written a number of Asperger’s Mysteries, including The Question of the Missing Head, The Question of the Unfamiliar Husband, and his latest, which will be released in October from Midnight Ink, is called The Question of the Absentee Father. Jeff joined me on IndieVoices to discuss Asperger’s and autism in fiction.
Listen to the entire interview here, or read some of the highlights below.
On the impact of the film Rain Man
You mentioned the movie Rain Man. When that came out, I think a lot of people had never heard of autism or didn’t know what it was. And so when they saw the movie, they decided that was autism. Well, autism is a spectrum, as you know, and a lot of people are affected in a lot of different ways.
On why an Asperger’s character is good as solving mysteries.
They’re very good at focusing on something if they want to. Samuel is great at blocking out distractions that will keep him from finding the correct answer. He’s very specific about that. If a person walks in and tells him that they have a problem, Samuel will tell them that he doesn’t solve problems. He answers questions.
On one-dimensional depictions of autism in fiction.
I’ve had the chance to observe and I’ve met a lot of people who are on the spectrum, so I can use that. But I have seen a lot of depictions that are one-dimensional. You know, “magic man.” And I think people on the spectrum generally tend to find that somewhat offensive.
Howard Lovy is executive editor at Foreword Reviews. You can follow him on Twitter @Howard_Lovy