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What "About" Bob?

From DSM to Neurodiversity: Unraveling 'What About Bob?' Through an Autistic Lens



Two years ago, I set out on an analytical exploration, delving into the comedic nuances of the 1991 film "What About Bob?" It was part of an essay for an Abnormal Psychology course, and armed with my inherent scrutiny, I immersed myself in deciphering the intricacies of Bob's behaviors, aiming to unravel the enigma of his character. Unbeknownst to me at the time, this endeavor would not only reshape my outlook on cinema but also illuminate a profound personal revelation – my own autism diagnosis.


In that initial analysis, I approached Bob's idiosyncrasies like a detective solving a complex puzzle. I attributed his quirks to a myriad of mental health diagnoses, carefully dissecting each behavior in an attempt to categorize and make sense of them. The lens I applied at the time seemed fitting, the DSM, a tool to unravel the complexities of a character who, in the world of the film, grappled with specific phobias and anxieties.


Fast forward to today, and the landscape has shifted. The analytical lens, once focused on mental health diagnoses, has broadened to include the spectrum of neurodivergence. My journey has come full circle, intertwining with a newfound awareness of my own neurodivergent identity. As I revisit my earlier analysis, I find myself peeling back layers of misinterpretation, revealing a tapestry woven with neurodivergent threads.


Autism, a word that was once on the periphery of my understanding, now takes center stage. As I revisit my earlier analysis of Bob's character, I find myself peeling back the layers of misinterpretation, revealing a tapestry woven with neurodivergent threads. It's a journey of evolution, both in my understanding of autism and in my own self-discovery.


Bob's idiosyncrasies, once labeled as manifestations of multiple specific phobias, now unfold as a manifestation of the autistic experience. The routines, sensory sensitivities, and social challenges portrayed in the film mirror the very facets of my own neurotype. It's a revelation that transcends the confines of a movie analysis; it's a profound connection to a community I now proudly identify with.


As I dissected Bob's anxieties, avoidance behaviors, and social nuances in my earlier analysis, I realize now that I was, unknowingly, dissecting facets of my own neurodivergent identity. His apprehension about leaving his apartment resonates with my own challenges in managing sensory overwhelm. His struggles in deciphering social cues mirror my own difficulties in navigating social interactions. Additionally, his evident need for self-agency and autonomy aligns with the characteristics of my PDA (Persistent Drive for Autonomy) autism profile. The lens of autism reframes these behaviors not as abnormalities but as the intricate dance of neurodiversity.


The misdiagnosis in the film, once an element of humor and plot development, now serves as a poignant metaphor for the broader societal misinterpretation of neurodivergent individuals. It highlights the importance of accurate representation and understanding, urging a shift in the narrative from stigmatizing mental health conditions to embracing the beauty of diverse neurotypes.


This journey from analysis to revelation is not just a personal one; it's an invitation for a collective paradigm shift. It's a call to reconsider how we perceive and depict neurodivergence in the media and in our lives. Bob's character, once a comedic foil, becomes a symbol of resilience and adaptation in a world that often fails to accommodate neurodivergent needs.


In the film's poignant narrative twist, we witness a profound transformation in Bob's character when presented with love and understanding. It's a testament to the power of acceptance and genuine connection, as Bob not only thrives but flourishes in an environment that embraces his neurodivergent traits. The dynamics shift, revealing an unexpected layer as Dr. Leo Marvin, initially positioned as the stable and successful figure, grapples with his own mental health challenges.


The façade of professional competence crumbles in the face of his need to maintain a flawless image. This reversal of roles serves as a stark commentary on the societal expectations placed on individuals, especially those in authoritative positions, and the toll it takes on their mental well-being. In the wake of authenticity and compassion, the film portrays a profound role reversal that challenges preconceived notions about mental health and underscores the transformative impact of embracing neurodiversity.


As I intertwine my own narrative with the analysis of "What About Bob?" from two years ago, I am reminded that the quest for understanding is an ever-evolving one. It's a journey that transcends the boundaries of cinema and extends into the very fabric of our lives. In embracing neurodiversity, we not only rewrite the narratives of fictional characters like Bob but also redefine our understanding of what it means to be human.


Sher Griffin

Neurocomplex Human Being, Becoming

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