Friday, November 14, 2014

Not That There's Anything Wrong with That!

This past week, comedian Jerry Seinfeld created waves when he told NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams that he thought he figured somewhere on the autism spectrum.  (Check out some of the conversation reprinted in the New York Daily News below.)

Predictably, all hell broke loose afterward with autism awareness groups crying foul, parents of autistic children going on Twitter rage spirals, accusations of "glamorizing" autism - seriously?? - and tomfoolery of various other natures (an article titled "Jerry Seinfeld Drops a Junior Mint into Autism Community" was posted to the Age of Autism website).  

From my POV, whether Seinfeld is actually autistic or not -- and let's be clear, this is not an easy illness to diagnose -- doesn't really matter.  He admitted on national television to feeling different, other than, awkward, and occasionally embarrassed or out-of-the-loop.  Why on earth then, should the public vilify him for coming out with feelings similar to what an autistic child might feel or be treated as having?? 

And why then is his ailment marked as "celebrity autism" to be rejected by the "bona fide" autism communities?  Is Michael J. Fox's Parkinson's "celebrity Parkinson's"?  Is Magic Johnson's AIDS "celebrity AIDS"?  Is Catherine Zeta-Jones's bipolar depression "celebrity bipolar depression"?

I feel like even if Seinfeld isn't *clinically autistic*, his bringing to light of his own accord and as a media persona the social struggles and fears that he has experienced is worthwhile.  And that rather than jump all over him for being a celebrity who comes out as such, we should applaud him for being honest about his difficulties, regardless of whether he is a card-carrying member of the autism club.  He is not denying that there are many others suffering on the lower-functioning end of the spectrum.  

But, what do I know....?  It just seems, these days, haterz gonna hate and we canNOT all be friends....

Jerry Seinfeld believes he's on the autism spectrum -- and it's no laughing matter.

The 60-year-old comic legend made the surprising admission in an interview with NBC's Brian Williams.

"On a very drawn-out scale, I think I'm on the spectrum," Seinfeld said in an interview that aired Thursday night.

Williams then asked what led Seinfeld to conclude he suffers from the widespread developmental disorder that impedes social interaction.

"You know, never paying attention to the right things," the Manhattan-based funnyman said.

"Basic social engagement is really a struggle."

Seinfeld, known for his "have-you-ever-noticed" brand of observational humor, is considered one of the top comics of his generation.

On stage, he kills.  But he revealed to Williams that he often finds himself floundering during casual conservations.

"I'm very literal," Seinfeld said.

"When people talk to me and they use expressions, sometimes I don't know what they're saying."

That description fits the symptoms of the disorder, which include an impaired ability to communicate with others and repetitive behaviors or interests.

"I don't see it as dysfunctional," he added.  "I just think of it as an alternate mind-set."

Seinfeld's candid admission was cheered by many on social media, but some autism advocates said they were concerned by Seinfeld's suggestion that what he suffers from is not an actual disorder.

"What frightens me with these kinds of statements and stories is that I don't want people to think that autism isn't a serious diagnosis, or that it's not a struggle for individuals and their families," said Wendy Fournier, president of the National Autism Association.

"What many people don't understand is that on that lower-functioning end of the spectrum, we have individuals who are suffering and whose lives are at risk."

"Autism is not a designer diagnosis," Fournier added.

Dr. Michael Rosenthal, a clinical neuropsychologist at the Child Mind Institute in Midtown, said he's not convinced Seinfeld is in fact on the autism spectrum.

The symptoms the comic cited, Rosenthal said, "are things that exist in a lot of people who don't necessarily have an autism spectrum disorder."

"They are certainly characteristics in people with autism, but the general population can have challenges in these areas as well," Rosenthal said.

"Autism is a spectrum," Rosenthal added, "and human behavior is a spectrum as well."

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