Sundelius, Analysis 2

Is Sherlock Holmes setting up a unrealistic role model for young people on the autistic spectrum? There is a lot Sherlock Holmes is able to do intellectually, and is garnering even more respect for his acute observation skills in just the first chapter. Dr. Watson is even given credit, however Sherlock Holmes proves almost every conclusion of Watson’s wrong, further proving that his attention to detail, acute observation skills and seemingly random and sporadic knowledge base could show how Holmes is arguably on the autistic spectrum…

However, is this something that young children and adults should look to as a realistic role model? If Holmes is on the spectrum, he is extremely high-functioning. Most whom are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum disorder are not so fortunate. Some are mute, do not respond to commands or requests and show other very, very different symptoms than Sherlock. Autism Speaks, Inc. wrote an article titled “About Autism,” in which they don’t give any specific percentages or demographics, however states:

    “Some children diagnosed with autism remain mute throughout their lives. Some infants who later show signs of autism coo and babble during the first few months of life, but they soon stop. Others may be delayed, developing language as late as age 5 to 9. Some children may learn to use communication systems such as pictures or sign language.” (Autism Speaks, 6)

    Sherlock Holmes is a grown man, which while this doesn’t disprove the argument that he is on the spectrum, it does hinder it slightly. However, in the next sentence in the article, it is also stated that a lot of them who have communication difficulties that do speak struggle to form coherent sentences, in which Holmes has no trouble with, regardless of the situation being inappropriate or not.

Sherlock is an intelligent man that many neurotypical or neurodivergent people should strive to look to as a role model for his observing, problem solving and determination. Yet, even for those whom are very intelligent either way, Holmes sets up a very high standard that many will find isn’t a realistic feat for someone in the general population. He also has some negative characteristics, such as his inability to diagnose an awkward or inappropriate social situation, some of his habits such as drug use, and his competitiveness that often offends and portrays a large ego.

This trend is also being seen more now in the current decade. In personal experience, movies and TV shows with a neurodivergent character is often a hero or heroine of sorts, a moral compass for the “right thing to do,” and I haven’t seen one where they are mute or unable to form complete, meaningful sentences. This portrays all kinds of different neurodivergent characteristics, and many struggle from a combination. Sherlock Holmes arguably is one of the first who is seen as neurodivergent, or on the autistic spectrum; yet he is more than likely not someone most people would go to for an example of someone to strive to be like, giving them an unrealistic bar to reach for, neurodivergent or otherwise.


Autism Speaks. (2012). About Autism. Retrieved October 3, 2016, from


One thought on “Sundelius, Analysis 2

  1. danielbowengv


    I completely agree with your analysis that calls into question the veracity of the claim that Sherlock can be classified as an autistic literary character. While I find the evidence fairly compelling that he was written to reflect an early representation of what we would now classify as ASD I think that there is an important argument that can be raised against it. One of the most compelling of these beings that even among idealistic representations of what ASD individuals can achieve, let alone neurotypical people, Sherlock is abnormal. Hell, I’d say that the deductive prowess that he displays skips over human capacity altogether and borders upon the omniscient. An ideal so far removed from reality that you can no more approach his intellect than reach out at night and pluck down a star. The question, however; is whether or not he, as a character, can function as an effective role model. And here I’ll have to disagree with you and maintain that he can.

    Let me preface first that while obviously it would be unhealthy to devote your entire life and energy to striving to be like Sherlock Holms that this isn’t anything exception to his character. It would be equally unhealthy for example to constantly compare and strive to be exactly like any person, character, or ideal that can be placed upon a pedestal. Each person in the world is sufficiently different and unique that unless one idolizes oneself (looking at you narcissists) they will always fall short. Sherlock is certainly a character that sets a high bar for emulation but this in the game of imitation and idolatry means that becoming “Sherlock” is simply more impossible than an inherently impossible task. For example, it would be much easier to become Bartleby than it would be to become Sherlock; however, neither are possible. Some infinities are simply larger than others.

    This doesn’t mean that the act of idolization is an inherently bad thing to do, however. Even though we acknowledge the fact that we can obviously never become exactly like our favorite characters we can find the things we find most appealing in our idols and attempt to emulate. Through this, though we obviously cannot become our role models, we can, at the very least, become more similar to them.

    As you pointed out, there are a great many things that we can see worthy of emulation in Sherlock along with many things that we should take with a grain of salt. The extent of his prowess I think isn’t a sufficient reason to disqualify him as a role model for ASD or neurotypical individuals alike. Unrealistic expectations which can never be met is something inseparable from the action of emulation.



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