Seinfeld recently revealed that he thinks he is on the Autism Spectrum in an interview with Brian Williams on NBC’s ‘The Nightly News’. When asked about why, he said that he is ‘never paying attention to the right things, basic social engagement is really a struggle. I’m very literal. When people talk to me and they use expressions, I don’t know what they’re saying‘.
While his revelation may seem positive because of his acceptance of this possibility, I believe that his explanation of the ‘markers’ shows how limited his understanding of Autism is. Sure, he did not shy away from admitting that he may have Autism – a way of saying that having Autism is not a bad thing, but his description is deeply problematic.
His description is a negative one- it included what could be wrong or what one may see as ‘dysfunctional’ in people with Autism. I have always believed that while it is important to acknowledge what people cannot do, it is more important to highlight and focus on what they CAN DO. In addition, the seemingly negative things that he outlined can be seen as positives. ‘Never paying attention to the right thing’ all depends on what one thinks ‘right things’ are. In my experience, people with Autism are exeptionally brilliant at focusing on fine details – the ones that people without Autism cannot see.
Social engagement is not always a struggle. Again, this depends on who is interacting with the person with Autism. Having an open mind goes a long way. Also, I have met people with Autism who have more confidence in public speaking than me.
Being literal, or not understanding sarcasm or implied meaning in language may be seen as a weakness, but trust me, this skill can be taught. The same goes with expressions.
My other issue with Seinfeld’s description is the lack of acknowledgement that people with Autism differ from one another. If you’ve met one person with Autism, you’ve met one person with Autism.
While it may seem like I am attacking Jerry Seinfeld, please be assured that I am not. I just want to explain the improtance of being aware of the complexities and the positives of having Autism. More often, I speak with people who only know how to describe Autism by outlining the negative behaviours and the things they cannot do. I think it’s time to stop that trend. I want us to focus on what they can do and what is great about having Autism.