I was first introduced to autism back in the 1970s in one of my many psychology classes when it was considered an affliction affecting almost exclusively boys. Girls suffering from a similar condition were thought to have childhood schizophrenia. Then, Asperger syndrome was introduced to the DSM list of mental disorders as a less severe version of the malady in 1994 only to be removed in 2012 and replaced by the Autistic Spectrum Disorder.
Simon Baron Cohen wrote a great book on the autistic spectrum called “Zero Degrees of Empathy.” According to his theory those at the extreme end of the spectrum are aware only of of things. People and relationships don’t matter, a nuisance of source of over-stimulation.
They have, in other words, “zero degrees of empathy.” However, Mr. Cohen argues, the fact that people have different levels of empathy can be good. A person closer to the autistic end of the spectrum can concentrate on tasks that require extreme levels of concentration for long periods of time without the need or desire for social interaction. In a world controlled by complicated and convoluted algorithms, how many of us are willing or capable of sitting in front of a computer for hours on end formulating beautiful lines of code used to guide a passenger jet onto a runway or cause a car to stop suddenly when an intersecting object is detected. Not me.
Two terrific television series, The Bridge and The Code feature protagonists who suffer from the autistic spectrum disorder. Saga is a Swedish police detective who lives alone, engages in sex without attachment, asks pointed, unfeeling questions of victims and their relatives and changes her shirt in the middle of squad room., much to the discomfort of her fellow officers, She also obsesses on every detail of an investigation and as a result become a key member of the homicide division.
The first season begins with a dead woman discovered in the very middle of the Oresund Bridge that connects Copenhagen, Denmark with Malmo, Sweden. When paramedics attempt to extricate the body, it breaks in half, one part Swedish, the other, Danish. The inclusion of a Danish detective is therefore necessary. Martin lives with his second wife, their three children and his eldest son from a second marriage and so has a very different personality from the solitary Saga with whom he must work closely over the next few weeks. The two form a fractious team that proves extremely effective in the following investigation. The series is so good that it came to the attention of American producers who produced a clone series for the FX. It has received favourable reviews but doesn’t match the quality of the original.
The Code is an Australian production that follows that lives of two brothers investigating the mysterious death of a teenage girl. Returning from a late-night party on a lonely highway in the Outback, two Aboriginal teenagers are involved in an accident with a tanker truck. The girl is killed while the boy survives wracked with guilt and suffering from an mysterious respiratory ailment. Ned, the older of the two brothers, is a journalist who is given one of the teen's phones by their teacher. A video on the phone shows the accident as it's taking place. Unfortunately, the memory card has been damaged. Ned turns to Jesse, his more autistically oriented brother for help. Being a whiz with computers, Jesse is able to unscramble the video. Although The Code lacks some of the complexity and production value of The Bridge, it is still well worth the six episodes it runs.
The Code and The Bridge are both excellent television series and both are available on Netflix. Each has a protagonist suffering from autism spectrum disorder who are essential to the solving of criminal cases. Mr. Baron Cohen would be sure to approve.