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 https://www.autismspeaks.org/sites/default/files/sctk_about_autism.pdf