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'The Rosie Project's' Moral Dilemma: Can You Laugh at Someone with a Disability?

Of all the leads in romantic comedies, the hero of Australian author Graeme Simsion’s novel "The Rosie Project" is probably among the least likely: Don Tillman is a science-minded geneticist who likely has Asperger's.

He's also single, and he’s perfectly fine with that.

But circumstances conspire to put him on the road towards finding a potential mate – which he tries to achieve through a thoroughly scientific questionnaire in which he tries to anticipate and eliminate anyone with whom he wouldn’t be compatible. What he doesn’t anticipate is a woman named Rosie, who turns up at about the same time. 

The world is full of unlikely romantic heroes, if you'd like," he says. "We're a whole mix of people and many, many of us actually manage to find somebody, and I don't even think it's overly optimistic either."

An NPR review described the novel as an utterly winning screwball comedy. And that gave Simsion some pause.

"It was meant to be dramatic with just the occasional light touch, and people were laughing out loud," he says. "And you know, I had a bit of an ethical question – it was great that he was generating comedy, but were we laughing at someone’s disability?"

Simsion didn't specifically spelled out in the novel that Tillman has Asperger's, and even created the character before doing any research on the syndrome. But his character exhibits the hallmark behaviors of someone with Asperger's and knew readers would make the connection.

In spite of his concerns, Simsion says he's gotten "almost uniformly positive" response from the Aspberger's community.