‘Bones’: Did Emily Deschanel’s Dr. Brennan Have Asperger’s Syndrome?

Bones entertained viewers for 12 seasons on Fox, with millions of viewers tuning in to the police procedural adventures of Dr. Temperance “Bones” Brennan, a forensic pathologist played by Emily Deschanel, and her partner, Special Agent Seeley Booth, played by David Boreanaz

Bones herself had one particular characteristic, however, that the show never directly addressed. She exhibited signs of Asperger’s Syndrome, which seemed to have a bearing on how skilled a pathologist she was, but some feel Bones missed an opportunity to explore it. 

What is Asperger’s Syndrome?

As defined by WebMD, Asperger’s Syndrome is a form of autism. People with this condition are “just as smart as other folks, but (they have)  more trouble with social skills.” People with Asperger’s tend to focus obsessively on one topic and repeat certain behavioral patterns. 

There are many fictional characters thought to have some form of Asperger’s, according to Applied Behavior Analysis. These include two characters on The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon Cooper, played by Jim Parsons, and Amy Farrah-Fowler, played by Mayim Bialik. Other examples include Forrest Gump., Abed Nadir on Community, and Abby on NCIS. And Bones Brennan is included in the list too. 

In 2017, Glamour published a piece headlined, “I’m an Autistic Woman, and Bones Is the Only Character Like Me on TV. It’s author, Jennifer Malia, wrote: “This season, for example, Bones told her intern Wendell Bray that she wrote five dissertations because she had so many interests that she couldn’t decide on one topic. I may have written only one dissertation for my doctorate in English, but I can talk about gothic novels the way Bones discusses forensic anthropology.”

Why did ‘Bones’ go off the air? 

Emily Deschanel
Emily Deschanel in Fox’s Bones. | FOX Image Collection via Getty Images

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In the show, Bones is the leader of a fictional lab that collaborates with the FBI. The show was about solving cases by examining the human remains of possible murder victims. Bones and her team provide scientific expertise, and Special Agent Seeley Booth provides FBI technique, with a sort of scientist/cop dynamic.

Screen Rant compiled 15 “secrets” about Bones, one of which was that Fox moved the air date so many times, it killed the ratings. Even in the age of DVRs, audiences often get confused and alienated when their favorite show doesn’t air at a particular time. 

Bones was no different. However, the way Fox made viewers jump through hoops to find the show struck many viewers as beyond the pale. Fox put the show on a long hiatus halfway through season 12, meaning the season finale aired in July, when reruns are usually on. By the end of the run, the show ranked number 78, having peaked at number 29 in the sixth season. 

Why did ‘Bones’ never mention Asperbergers?

Emily Deschanel and David Boreanaz in Bones
Emily Deschanel and David Boreanaz in Bones | Fox

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The “secret” mentioned by Screen Rant that rankled many viewers was that Bones Asperger’s was never diagnosed. In season 8, the show tried to pass off Bones’ behavior as a by-product of her difficult relationship with her mother, but creator Hart Hanson admitted the character was based on a friend diagnosed with Asperger’s. 

So why not mention it? To hear Hanson tell it, Fox thought it would be a bad idea to give the character a label, but a number of people took issue with that reasoning. To openly address the diagnosis on the series, Bones could have offered representation to those living with Asperger’s.

The show Parenthood did mention Asperger’s by name. In a 2010 article in the New Jersey Star-Ledger, producer Jason Katims, whose son has Asperger’s said, he was met with some concern from NBC, explaining: “They want to be careful of making something either feel too heavy, or something where you’re not talking to a large enough audience,” he said.   “My hope would be that (the depiction) normalizes it. So there’s no stigma to it, no mystery to it.”