In the very first episode of Community — during the very first meeting of the study group — Abed Nadir makes a quip to Jeff Winger, who has just been shot down by Britta Perry after asking her to dinner. Jeff’s response? “Yeah, well you have Aspergers.” Jeff was speaking out of anger, but the possibility that Abed may be on the autism spectrum has been mentioned throughout the show. But does it actually make sense? Let’s look at it a little bit closer.
This would be a good time to issue a disclaimer that I have Asperger’s myself. I’m well aware of the problems that can occur when making blanket statements about people with Asperger’s, and I hope nothing in this article comes across that way. I’m simply looking at one of my favorite characters, and wondering if he could have the same thing as me, as many people have speculated over the years.
One of the most commonly known things about people with Asperger’s is an inability to pick up on social cues. This can manifest itself in many ways, but there’s a general idea that the little hints and indications people give that everyone else picks up on easily can be lost on us. This is certainly true with Abed. On one episode, a man hits on him in a bar, and he’s none the wiser. And even when he starts to pick up on it, he ignores it, because he just wants to talk about Farscape:
That entire scene is excellent, but the part that cracks me up is when Paul F. Tompkins’ character flat-out asks “would you like to have gay sex with me?” to which Abed calmly replies “no, thank you.” Even if Abed did eventually figure out that the man was hitting on him, it took him longer than usual, and his reaction to it was certainly atypical. Although, I might ask, is it wrong to react the way Abed did? Rather than have some latently homophobic freak out about a guy being into him, Abed turns him down as politely as possible. And for his troubles, he gets a drink thrown in his face.
In a later episode, Abed seems a bit more aware of his tendency to react to things in an atypical fashion. When the Dean shows up at his door with chips and soda, and enthusiastically says “boys night!” Abed looks and Troy and Annie and says “I need help reacting to something.” From this we can tell that Abed seems to understand that he doesn’t react the appropriate way, and openly asks his friends for help. Also, the scene is just really funny.
One recurring theme throughout the show is Abed’s tendency to understand social interaction based on what he observes in television and film. This was exemplified during the classic My Dinner With Andre episode where Abed wants to re-enact the film with Jeff. We also see it in the surreal “Abed’s Uncomfortable Christmas” episode, where Abed’s only means of dealing with his loneliness on Christmas is to visualize everyone in stop-motion. This phenomenon could be explained by multiple factors, though. Not only is Abed socially awkward, he’s also the son of an immigrant. TV and film were his ways of communicating with and understanding Western culture. That he learned a fair amount of his social skills (or lack thereof) from these areas isn’t exactly a surprise.