welcome, jerry

In a revealing conversation, Jerry Seinfeld tells Brian Williams he’s observed in himself behavior that makes him think he may have autism.

“I think on a very drawn-out scale, I think I’m on the spectrum,” said Seinfeld. “Basic social engagement is really a struggle. I’m very literal, when people talk to me and they use expressions, sometimes I don’t know what they’re saying. But I don’t see it as– as dysfunctional. I just think of it as an alternate mindset.”

– NBC Nightly News

The reaction to Seinfeld’s revelation was, well, hmm, I’ll let my friend John tell us.

Many people rushed to judgment in their comments, saying “he’s not autistic,” or “he’s making a play for attention.”  Some of the angriest comments came from parents who said, “My son has real autism.  Jerry Seinfeld is not autistic and he’s insulting us!”  There are also angry comments from autistic self advocates who resent the fact that he helped raise money for Autism Speaks, an organization they despise.

Not, so fast, I say.  Let’s step back and take a deep breath here.

Advocates for autistic people generally ask for three things:

  • Acceptance
  • Respect
  • Accommodation

Those are noble and reasonable requests. Some people approached Mr. Seinfeld’s remarks in that spirit.  Others did not, and those traits were lacking in the angry backlash to his words. Yet he did not come to us in anger or arrogance.  Mr. Seinfeld uttered his words in a reflective tone, perhaps as an explanation for things in his life not previously understood.

Who are we to judge him?  We see his TV persona, but we know nothing of his real life.  We know nothing of his true feelings.  Maybe he is on the spectrum, maybe he’s not.  I’m sure of this:  We owe him respect as a fellow human being on a voyage of self-discovery.

What about the suggestion that “he does not really have autism?”  Actually, he didn’t claim to have autism.  His words imply he thinks he is part of what scientists call the Broader Autism Phenotype – people who have traits of autism, but not to the degree that they would be diagnosed autistic by a professional.  Millions of people are in this BAP group.

Please click here to read John’s article in its entirety.

Lest you think that John is overstating the case, the very first link that comes up in a Google search of “Jerry Seinfeld Autism” is a Salon article entitled, “Jerry Seinfeld’s not helping: Celebrity autism claims distract from reality and research — Comedian’s revelation doesn’t build the right awareness — and might make it harder for already overwhelmed parents.”

THAT (incredibly problematic title) is the very first link to the man’s intensely personal revelation that he sees autistic traits in himself.

I’m going go out on a limb here. I’m going to choose to believe that the general public is capable of understanding that Autism is a spectrum disorder. That it affects different people in vastly different ways. That there is no static nor consistent level of disability, no fixed ratio of gifts, as-yet-undiscovered or otherwise, to attendant challenges.

14 thoughts on “welcome, jerry

  1. A great suggestion, Jess: welcome him to the neighborhood. . . .then show him the work that needs to be done. A perfect response! We need all the help we can get with the work to be done, and if Jerry wants to add his voice, I welcome him.

  2. love this! My husband has been diagnosed with DID and does an excellent job of maintaining his mental state but through our examination of life and his struggles we both feel that he has some traits typically associated with autism and through the always helpful information you provide we’ve found tools to help him with those struggles!

    Also we just watched the marble rye episode last night!

  3. Great post. At first I didn’t get why someone as successful as Seinfeld needed to identify himself as possibly being on the spectrum. But the more I think about it, the more I think this is a good thing. It proves that the spectrum is exactly that: a spectrum with a wide range of abilities. I don’t get why people are so offended by him coming out and saying this. If anything, it is getting people to talk about autism. That’s a good thing.

  4. I found the interview with Mr. Seinfeld one of the more touching things I’ve seen on tv lately. Maybe that’s because I, too, think I’ve got more than a few “feathers”. (and I know other members of the family do) But, I truly admired his open honesty and sincerity. That seemed pretty daggone brave to me.
    This piece is just awesome. I’ve learned a great deal about acceptance here on your page and I just wanted to say I appreciate you.

  5. Yes, Jess, again you’ve nailed it. Thank you! I love the goose/ duck/ bird analogy and was actually reminded of it before you mentioned it. So, I too welcome Jerry to the flock, the bread looks yummy!

  6. Thank you for this! That salon article made me so angry. My father is 90 and is probably on the spectrum – never diagnosed, of course, but now that we know more about the traits, my older sister and I are consistently saying “OMG”. There are several people in my extended family that are BAP.

    And what really makes me boil is the fact that my son is “not autistic enough” for these dismissers, and “not like their child”. GRRRRRRRRRRR!!!

    No one OWNS suffering, no one OWNS difficulty, and no one owns the spectrum. Is it going too far to think that the people who do this dismissing are bigoted in a strange way? It’s just not OK, and it’s hurtful.

    I’m really glad I found you, and those you’ve led me too. Yours is a perspective that is life changing, and greatly appreciated.

  7. Being from the UK I’m not really familiar with Jerry Seinfeld, though I have heard of him. His previous association with AS is kinda worrying, but maybe as he explores his own possible autism (even if it is just mild) he will begin to see why they are hated so much. He would not be the first person to be taken in by them only to realise they are poison!

    I am beginning to find the vitriol aimed at him a bit disturbing, I’m quite capable of passing for normal too – much of my disability is hidden from view. Like many of my generation (50+) I never got a diagnosis and never even knew I had a diagnosable condition. So I just got on with life and buried my difficulties. We had to fit in because the alternative was to be labelled as mentally defective and be locked away in an institution!

    I remember as a teenager being afraid to go to the doctors with my difficulties for fear of being institutionalised and subjected to electric shock therapy (something that actually happened to a close friend). When I finally sought help in my forties it was with a great deal of fear that I approached my doctor. Luckily psychiatry has changed a lot since my youth so it was not as bad as I thought, though I was misdiagnosed with social phobia disorder at the time.

    Who are we to say that Jerry wasn’t exactly the same – burying his oddness so that he could survive in the real world. Of course like me his career choice helped, artists and actors/comedians are expected to be a bit eccentric, so we get away with the oddness we can’t cover up.

    It makes me wonder what kind of reaction I would get if I met some of these people, would I be attacked as not being autistic enough? Would they dismiss me as being too articulate? I suspect they would!

  8. “Recognizing the traits of autism in oneself and claiming them, lifting the curtain and letting light pour into the darkest places for public scrutiny is not an easy thing to do. In fact, I’d say it takes great courage in the world in which we currently live to say before an audience of millions, “I think I might be on the autism spectrum.” ”

    This is just perfectly articulated…the whole post. I’m hoping people can get past the question, “Do I agree with what Seinfeld said?” and instead ask, “Are adults allowed to discuss whether or not they are on the spectrum?” We need to be able to have these discussions…for so many people, an accurate diagnosis was not possible when they were children…and if we react with skepticism and toxic criticism when adults discuss the spectrum, it just makes it so much harder to think about these issues in an accurate, constructive way.

    I wish everyone criticizing Seinfeld would be forced to read a copy of this post.

  9. This is why I worry for my daughter. You have to live with her and get to know her before you start picking up on her autism. Her scripting, stimming, social anxiety, fixations, among many more autistic traits. Can be hidden very well behind the lovable, shy, introvert people see her being in public. Her struggles are many. They are her struggles. They are not less they are not more. They are struggles she faces everyday. When someone minimizes them by saying she is not autistic or not autistic enough it’s a blow to the gut. This is why we don’t go to any autistic support groups in our small town. We just don’t measure up in the struggle department with the rest of the autism community. Our isolation only grows with time. My prayer is to one day find acceptance for my daughter. With whomever will see her for her wonderful self.

    • Ruth, this is very powerful. May I quote this on my autistikids Facebook page? There are so many parents who feel this way, and so many autistic adults who say the same. It needs to be said again and again until it’s truely heard. You can email me at autistikids@gmail.com if you like. Thank you for your insightful and heartfelt comment.

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