I’ve been following the backlash against Jerry Seinfeld this week from the autism community regarding his belief that he may be on the higher end of the autism spectrum. Here’s the video of his comments:
The story has been carried by a number of news outlets. The Washington Post featured a balanced article about the story, featuring those supportive of Seinfeld’s comment and those vehemently angered by it. And there are also links to a number of posts written by those affected by autism included in Autism Daddy’s post where he asks for calm and for understanding from all sides.
They are all worth a read if you wish to learn more about the outrage felt by many at Seinfeld’s revelation.
For a long time it seems, the autism community (meaning those affected by autism in some way) have been waging wars amongst themselves. Those wanting a “cure” vs those who are wanting to embrace the strengths of the spectrum. Those who are determined to find a cause vs those who are just wanting to find effective therapy. Those for biomedical treatments vs those who support more traditional methods. Those for vaccination vs those against.
Possibly the biggest battle that this whole story has blown out of the water is the battle between the claims of the low functioning vs high functioning ends of the spectrum.
As Seinfeld himself states, on a drawn out spectrum he feels he would be on there, on the higher end. Yes he can communicate, yes he has been successful, yes he can function. But clearly he does encounter difficulties and as much as he may have masked them or found coping mechanisms to deal with them, these difficulties are real and have been of lifelong standing.
The truth is that ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) has a wide spectrum of symptoms, severity and impairment. That is why it’s classed as a spectrum disorder. There are many different variants and no two people with autism are the same or exhibit the exact same range, degree or severity of impairment.
Many people championing those on the lower end of the spectrum are outraged that Seinfeld has identified himself with the disorder when he is on the higher end (if on the spectrum at all). They feel his comments give an incorrect representation of the real strain that autism places on every aspect of daily life. How can a man so successful, so communicative, so charming be an example of a disorder with such variation in severity?
I do understand where this anger is coming from, particularly for those families doing the hard yards with family members on the lower functioning scale. But I want you all to remember this.
I am a parent of two high-functioning kids with autism. They can communicate. They attend mainstream school. They have friends. They are doing really well.
That does not discount their real and lasting and lifelong difficulties.
That should not devalue their struggles EVERY DAY.
That should not cancel out all the hours of therapy we have gone through (and continue to go through) in order to help them better deal with every day life.
That should not diminish the reality of the relentless strain of autism on our family.
If Seinfeld truly does have autism (and unless he ever seeks a formal diagnosis we will never know) should we discount his difficulties because of his success? Should we sneer and deride him because his symptoms are clearly not as severe as others on the spectrum? Should we dismiss his confession because he has not received a formal diagnosis?
No we should not.
Autism Spectrum Disorder has many faces – no one face is the same.
Low functioning or high functioning.
Diagnosed or undiagnosed.
Does it truly matter? If the difficulties are real then we need understanding, awareness, compassion and support to help people be the best they can be.
Not anger and recrimination.
My two cents worth for FYBF, Things I Know and the Weekend Rewind.
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With only a limited understanding of autism (we are going through a long process of trying to work out if our 2 year old is on the spectrum), I think that there must be a lot of people on the higher end of the spectrum who were never diagnosed in the past. I can see what it is an issue that is fraught with controversy among the autism community, but – again coming at this without experience – I wonder that successful people wouldn’t be celebrated?
I hadn’t heard that Seinfield had spoken out saying that he was on the spectrum and I am leaning towards your way of thinking. While I don’t have a great deal of personal experience with Autism, I think that this way of thinking could be applied to a lot of different things too. A friend was telling me a story of local young man who was diagnosed with Downs Syndrome. He’s 18 now, but when he was born, his mother was told to just put him in front of the TV because that’s all he will be good for. She sought out different therapies for him, and he now owns his own gelato business. While that may not be possible for everyone who has downs syndrome, it doesn’t negate the fact that he does have it, and through a lot of therapy was able to reach the point he is at now.
My niece has just been diagnosed with ASD (but they’re still doing testing to see where she sits on the spectrum). Her case is quite obvious because at almost 3 she still doesn’t talk or communicate properly. My one year old can say more words than her. But, when my brother was at the drs with her they determined he too has a form of asperges and would be on the spectrum as well despite his ability to function and have a job etc. The dr actually commended him for wanting to go and get tested further and look into coping strategies instead of fobbing it off and saying he was fine. Im actually quite impressed with the way hes handled it all.
I have not been on social media a great deal this week so have missed this story. What a can of worms.
My favourite saying applies here- live and let live.
If Jerry is on the spectrum isn’t this a positive, does it not show what can be achieved?? People just find a reason to whinge sometimes.
Great post, thank you. While I can understand some people’s frustration – especially if they are touched by the extreme challenges of those st the lower functioning end of the spectrum – I would like to think that celebrating successes can only lead to more acceptance, understanding and therefore positive outcomes for all. Ex
I have been teaching in the classroom for ten years now and each year I’ve had at least two children in my class with Autism. Some have been on the high end and some on the low. Some of these children have displayed extreme artistic talent and despite their struggles and can definitely see hugely successful lives ahead of them. One little boy was such a brilliant artist I kept a drawing he did for me because I think he’ll be famous one day! Perhaps Jerry Seinfeld’s life hasn’t been as smooth sailing as everyone imagines. Thank you for this enlightening post Kirsty as I hadn’t heard anything about it and I’m a big fan of his x
Hi Kirsty, what an excellent post you’ve written here. I love the balanced approach that you take, with both personal insight fro your own experiences, and a broader view as well. As a psychologist, I see many kids who have varying degree’s of symptoms and qualities on the spectrum. There is no two kids alike, in the same way that there are no kids kids with anxiety, or learning disorders, or depression alike. And with the recent changes to the diagnostic criteria eliminating Aspergers, it is now even harder for a child to be diagnosed on the spectrum, so I think a lot of families will experience the frustration of being told their child does not ‘look’ enough like ASD to meet criteria, get funding, get understanding.
I have no idea about Jerry Seinfeld, but as with everything with mental health, can’t we approach it with empathy and curiosity, rather than anger and shame? Thanks for the post, really enjoyed reading 🙂
Understanding…. and love, wouldn’t that make the world a better place? Thanks for a great post.
I love this post and think everyone needs to cool their jets about what he said. It’s his belief, I doubt he would just say that for no reason. Why can’t someone who is extremely successful be on the spectrum. We are all the same on the inside, that is what I tell my kids. x
I somehow missed all this, turns out they don’t deliver the paper to the rock I’ve been living under, but having now caught up, I completely agree with what you’ve said. Why does it have to be a competition? Why can’t we just celebrate people for who they are irrespective of whether they do or don’t have a diagnosis?
Interesting and enlightening post, Kirsty. I didn’t really get into the debate over what Seinfeld said but I agree with you. There’s obviously wide and vast ranges in the spectrum. But why hasn’t Seinfeld been diagnosed? You’d think he’d do that first before coming out and publicly talking about it…
Crying. Yep. Thank you for this. xx
A great post! I have a son who is on the higher end of the spectrum, and he too attends mainstream school. I was particularly saddened by the backlash that Jerry Seinfeld received. I once read that whilst autism is a spectrum disorder, it is very much an individual experience and I really do stand by this. As you mention Autism manifests itself in a myriad of ways and we absolutely need support, understanding and inclusiveness. Thanks so much for posting this. xx