Related: What About Watson?
Through my work with families of gifted kids–including my current book research, I’ve noticed two trends of late involving BBC shows that air on PBS here in the states:
- The gifted kids are hung up on Doctor Who, most likely because the title character has a joie de vivre and curiosity that seems familiar to them.
- Their parents are swoony for Sherlock.
And when I say “swoony,” I’m not talking about people generating and salivating over fan fiction or Tumblr graphics and gifs featuring the stars of the show. (Not that there’s anything wrong with some of that. I’ve got stuff pinned on Pinterest, see?)
For this post, I’m talking about smart, witty, articulate moms and dads who are drawn to Sherlock for reasons, I believe, are unrelated to glamour and the charisma of the actors.
It’s about hope.
The parents whom I know and work alongside with on gifted advocacy spend a lot of time reflecting on how their bright kids are perceived by the world. For the gifted kids who are high achievers and take education in stride, parenting is relatively smooth sailing.
It’s not this group from which I hear the most Sherlock talk. It’s the next group.
For kids who are highly gifted and/or twice exceptional (“2E”), however, it’s a bit different parenting journey. Captivated by their personal “mind palaces” and perseverating over details, many of these kids miss social cues–with at times painful results. More than that they may decide to opt out of social conventions around what one “should” do in conversations.
Sound . . . familiar?
That Sherlock is smart isn’t new, of course. The fictional character has always been depicted as smart, an autodidact even.
What makes the current BBC version of him refreshingly relevant is that it’s a modern character–an Aspie, (Season 2, Episode 2) and thus likely 2E–someone who brings his social shortcomings and sharp observations into an age of cell phones, computers, and text messages.
In short, it’s our world and one closer to what our kids will experience as adults than original, Victorian Sherlock.
And, look, he has friends!
My own friend Sarah wrote a post awhile back about how she wants her gifted kid to find his own Watson. (I hadn’t watched the series yet when this came out, but she and I both agree that Sherlock offers parents of gifted kids hope.) Sarah wrote:
Son #1 needs a Watson.
Right now, we are his Watson, guiding him, correcting him, helping him learn the right words to say in social situations. We’re the ones reminding him what the social conventions are. We act as his gatekeepers, balancing social time and downtime, limiting time with personalities that he still finds difficult, and so on. It can be exhausting, but he is our amazing son, and we are happy to be his Watson.
But, we are well aware that he will not always be with us and that he needs to learn to function in this crazy, colorful, chaotic world of ours. We worry what he will be like when he’s off at college or out in the workforce or, heck, by himself in the grocery store. Some people find mathematics challenging or writing or laundry or whatever. He finds group social interactions challenging.
So, we hope that he finds his Watson. [ Read more]
It would be interesting to know if the writers have experience with giftedness. Judging by the quality and inventiveness of the writing, I’m guessing “yes.” I wonder too about the actor who plays this Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch. Other than he’s talented enough to make a career in theatre and film, there’s not much information about his intelligence. I did some sleuthing around though, and found some provocative and noteworthy clues.
Admittedly, it’s rude to speculate openly on a person’s intellectual wiring. Sort of like speculating on their sexual orientation, relationship status, or measurements. It’s deeply personal. However–and at the risk of being rude (forgive me, Mr. Cumberbatch), I cannot help but see this passage about the actor as suggesting Dabrowski’s overexcitabilities (yes, it’s from the Daily Mail, *cringe*, but stay with me a second):
“Young Benedict’s behaviour caused anxiety from the start. He was ungovernable, noisy, inexhaustible and constantly on the brink of raging boredom — still rampaging like a toddler when he was eight years old. He says now he was ‘a hyperactive nightmare’ and ‘a tearaway’. He revelled in ‘inappropriate behaviour’. For a dare, he once dropped his trousers and flashed outside a church.” [ Read more ]
I’ve shared that passage with a couple of friends and we had a good chuckle. We all know kids like that. Some of us are raising them right now. A few of us are homeschooling them. Other friends are teaching them in public or private schools.
But that kind of kid?
Yeah, we know him, maybe a little too well some days.
This brings up all kinds of questions: Is the current actor who plays the famous resident of 221B Baker Street uniquely able to capture the complicated wiring, movements of an intense, gifted/2e adult who is passionate about his work? Is there something about pairing this particular actor with this particular role that makes the show all the more engaging–magnetic even–for many parents of gifted/2e kids? Is a big part of the reason why the BBC Sherlock is such a hit with gifted parents due to the fact that it presents a happy ending as a plausible reality—that eventually these quirky kids will grow up, make friends, get a job, and hurry us out the door to see Les Miserables, like Sherlock did with his parents (Season 3, Episode 1)?
The fact that the two actors who played Sherlock’s parents in the show were in fact Cumberbatch’s real-life parents is just too delish. It’s practically catnip.
Even better than speculation? Cumberbatch reports his own mother, British actress Wanda Ventham, sees Sherlock in him.
Ta-da! The classic smoking gun.
(Also, more catnip.)
From the Radio Times:
“She sees a lot of me in Sherlock,” Cumberbatch said, “which both makes her laugh and is slightly embarrassing. I suppose it’s my rushing around, my impatience.”….
“Of course I was naughty! Every kid is naughty. I got into all sorts of trouble as a kid by pushing boundaries. Not illegal trouble, but mucking about. No more than anyone else, though. I wasn’t a bully, nor was I desperate for attention.
“I had a problem focusing. I probably had Attention Deficit Disorder*, or something on the border of it. I was always performing, doing silly voices. The teachers realised I could go one of two ways: be creative or destructive. I was made a prefect and it calmed me down. I realised I was being respected and I needed to return that respect.
“I had to spend double the amount of time learning French vocabulary.** I struggle to learn by rote. I’ve had meltdowns on set [due to forgetting his lines]. Which is embarrassing and shameful.” [ Read more ]
Which brings us to a revelation that I had last week while puzzling through all of this. I know a number of moms who in light of all of this, and if they met Cumberbatch at a party, would be far more interested in getting his mother’s phone number than his own.
Because much like fans who waited to find out how Sherlock survived that jump at the end of the second season, we all want to know how she did it.
* * *
• Another post on Sherlock, with a different reading of the depiction of his giftedness/twice exceptionality, can be found here. (I left a note about how the character’s arrogance is at least in part a function of privilege and status.)
• Mind palaces are a real thing.
• Given the traffic that this post is generating (um, wow) it seems like a good time to mention that I wrote a book that was published by GHF Press in 2013. Helps pay the bills and all that, you know. (A second book comes out in 2015, as alluded to in the first paragraph of this post. That’s right. It’ll be here quicker than Sherlock Season 4.)
* Giftedness is often misdiagnosed as ADD or ADHD. For what it’s worth, this book (in my Amazon store) is helpful.
** For those unfamiliar with giftedness, asynchronous development is commonplace–which runs counter to the cultural misperception that “giftedness” is solely about academic prowess. It’s not unusual, therefore, to have a gifted/2e child who struggles in subject areas or with pedagogy methods.