Anger, Autism and Jerry Seinfeld
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.