While we wait to see if any queries will come to the desk of the psychiatrist regarding characters or plot twists (we don’t really use divans), I thought I’d write about something else that I’ve been pondering about for a while.
I went to watch The Imitation Game (that I really enjoyed. I’m not sure how accurate this biopic is to the life of Alan Turing, but the story is fascinating and Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance is extraordinary) and it got me thinking about how many characters in TV series (Sherlock himself, or the female Swedish detective in The Bridge, Sheldon in The Big Bang Theory), films and books are…different. One of the readers who left a comment in my post also observed the same. He noted that characters like Raskolnikov in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment are by no means your normal Joe, but it would difficult to make them fit into a standard psychiatric diagnostic category. Many of the psychopaths (that by the way, is not a psychiatric diagnostic category, although used to be a legal one in the UK before changes to the Mental Health Act) that grace our books and screens are also (hopefully) not quite the picture we have of our friendly neighbour. One possible explanation —apart from the fact that we’re always interested in people and places that are far from our usual environment— would be that some of them are shown as engaging in extremes of behaviour and going to the dark side, that maybe we have theoretically thought about, but would not cross over to.
But I think with some of those characters, there might be something else at work. Of course, Alan Turing is not a character in a book (well, it is, but based on a real person), but if we are to go by his depiction in the film, he appears to have likely suffered from Asperger’s Syndrome (part of the Autism Spectrum Disorders), very high functioning. He is very single minded and obsesses over his work, with no evidence of any other interests, has very few social graces, and although we do not know much about his childhood, from his conversations with the only friend he is shown to have when he was a teenager, Christopher, he’d always been “different”, as he quotes his mother remarking on it at times.
There is a fairly illustrative scene, when he is talking to his friend, and Christopher gives him a book on cryptography and code breaking. When young Alan asks what that is and Christopher explains, Alan asks how is that different from normal human interaction because (and I’m paraphrasing here): “People never say what they mean and one has to try and decipher what code they are using and what they are really trying to say.” Can you even imagine what it must be like to try and navigate a social situation without being able to read people’s expressions, and taking literally everything you’re told? If you’ve ever experienced extreme cultural shock on finding yourself in an environment that was completely alien, imagine that multiplied by…many. Maybe, just maybe, these characters put into context, or highlight, how our social interactions work, and how we take for granted and natural, codes of behaviour and speech that are nothing but. They might help us reflect on the true nature of our prejudices and the moral compass of a place, a time, and a society. Perhaps they might make us realise that we are the truly weird ones.
The facts of Alan Turing’s life, his tragic death and his terrible treatment at the hands of the justice system of the time (being a homosexual in the post-war era wasn’t easy) only highlight that the “normal” society, the one that’s supposed to be flexible and easily adapt, makes no such efforts most of the time.
If we can sometimes look around and appreciate something different after reading a science fiction book in which pages we recognise a distorted image of our world, we might do the same by offering a different perspective on our social world through some of our characters. Just saying.
By the way, I leave you a link to the UK Royal College of Psychiatrists’ page on Autistic Spectrum Disorder information page:
From that page, a summary of some of the behavioural manifestations of the disorder:
Overall, the problems and behaviours can be divided into three main areas:
Difficulties with communication
Children and young people with ASD have difficulties with both verbal communication (speaking) and non-verbal communication (eye contact, expressions and gestures). Some children may not be able to talk at all or have very limited speech.
Some have good speech and language skills, but still have difficulty using their speech socially or to sustain a conversation. Their use of language may be overly formal or ‘adult-like’. They may talk at length about their own topics of interest, but find it hard to understand the back and forth nature of two-way conversations.
Difficulties with social interaction
Children and young people with ASD have difficulty understanding the ‘social world’, for example, they often have difficulty recognising and understanding their feelings and those of people around them. This in turn can make it difficult for them to make friends. They may prefer to spend time alone, or appear insensitive to others because of their difficulties understanding social rules and expectations.
Difficulties with behaviour, interests and activities
Children and young people with ASD often prefer familiar routines (e.g. taking the same route to school every day, putting their clothes on in a particular order), and tend to have difficulties dealing with change, which they find difficult and distressing.
They may also have unusual intense and specific interests, such as in electronic gadgets or lists of dates. They might use toys more like ‘objects’ to line up, for example. They may have unusual responses to particular experiences from their environment such as tastes, smells, sounds and textures. For example, they could be very sensitive to the sound of a hair dryer, or the feel of certain materials against their skin.
Some children show unusual repetitive movements such as hand or finger flapping or twisting, or complicated whole body movements.
If you are in the UK, this is the link to the National Autistic Society:
National Autistic Society (UK)
And in case you want to check The Imitation Game in Rotten Tomatoes (it seems it opens in the US on Christmas Day):
Thank you so much for reading if you’ve found it interesting, please like, share and comment. And if you want to CLICK, that’s fine too.