When I first read “A Study in Scarlet”, I never considered the possibility that Sherlock Holmes exhibited several defining traits of autism and viewed the character as merely eccentric. As I began to read it again for this assignment, however, I found that I could identify several specific instances where the description of Sherlock’s behavior appears to indicate that he represents an autistic character.
Sherlock displays an obsession or dedication to one specific field of learning as is commonly found in those on the spectrum. As his character is first introduced, he is celebrating his forensic discovery of a solution which only produces a precipitate when it comes into contact with blood, which is the first indication of his obsession with crime. Then as he explains his discovery to Watson and Stamford, he displays an extensive knowledge of past crimes and the potential for forensic evidence to have altered the outcome of the trials to which Stamford remarks “You (Sherlock) seem to be a walking calendar of crime” (7). When Watson accompanies Sherlock to the crime scene on Brixton Road, he describes Sherlock writing “So engrossed was he with his occupation that he appeared to have forgotten our presence, for he chattered away to himself under his breath the whole time, keeping up a running fire of exclamations, groans, whistles, and little cries suggestive of encouragement and hope” (16). Sherlock becomes completely enthralled in mystery and the solving of crimes through his methods of “deduction”.
Along with his dedication to deduction, Sherlock has a tendency to play his violin when he is troubled and needs to think. This repetitive behavior could be considered an indication of autistic ritual, while each case is different (my uncle sways from side to side when he is troubled or upset), perhaps Sherlock’s way of coping with disturbance is to sit with his violin as he reflects on the particulars of a case. When Sherlock describes his “shortcomings”, he tells Watson that “I get in the dumps at times, and don’t open my mouth for days on end” (7). This silent period could also be an indication of autism as it seems to be a routine for Sherlock and a coping mechanism.
Watson also describes Sherlock as lacking in social graces as he writes after a conversation with Sherlock “I felt rather indignant at having two characters whom I had admired treated in this cavalier style” (12). Sherlock details the faults of these two character’s in conversation with Watson, seemingly oblivious to the offense he may have caused Watson in his statements. This slight social lacking could be indicative of autistic characteristics in Sherlock as well. In an article I found which discusses the idea of Sherlock as a potentially autistic character Dr. Lisa Sanders describes this phenomenon as “mind-blindness” defining this term as “difficulty in understanding what others feel or think and thus in forming relationships” (3). She also describes Sherlock’s incredible skills of deduction saying “He (Sherlock) demonstrates what Asperger called ‘autistic intelligence’- an ability to see the world from a very different perspective than most people, often by focusing on details overlooked by others” (3). With both my observations and those of Dr. Lisa Sanders, I can now see that Sherlock Holmes is very likely an autistic character.
Sanders, Lisa. Hidden Clues. N.p.: The New York Times, 2009. 1-4. Web. 26 Sept. 2016.