“How bad could autism be? Jerry Seinfeld has it.”
Last week comedian Jerry Seinfeld sat down with NBC Nightly News host Brian Williams to talk about his current stand-up career and the second season of his web series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. In the interview, Seinfeld mentioned that he believes he has autism.
“I think, on a drawn out scale, I think I’m on the spectrum,” he told Williams. “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 dysfunctional, I just think of it as an alternate mindset.”
While some praised him, like Amy Daniels of Autism Speaks who said that what he said "struck a chord with the autism community," others found it to be unhelpful.
"The danger with announcements like Seinfeld’s," wrote Marie Myung-Ok Lee on Salon, "or fictional portrayals of the Everyman autistic like Ray Romano’s Hank character on Parenthood, who self-diagnoses his autism after reading a book about Asperger’s syndrome, is that autism, a neurological condition, becomes almost fashionable. Who wouldn’t want some odd quirkiness to make you memorable?"
Lee says that the takeaway could become like "politicians and corporate interests spin climate change with visions of bananas growing in Minnesota while ignoring the devastation it will also bring."
However, although high-functioning autistics like Temple Grandin, food animal handling systems designer and author, and Satoshi Tajiri, Pokemon game designer, live and flourish despite autism, that isn't the case with everyone.
"What I fear is that these public faces of autism will allow society, and more important, policymakers, mentally off the hook," Lee wrote. "You can have autism and get a Ph.D.! It helps you write jokes! Your charming quirks and aggravating behaviors are now explainable."
The same week that Seinfeld was making his announcement, Jillian McCabe, a mother in Oregon, threw her autistic 6-year-old son, London, off of a bridge.
“She took him for a walk and did what she did," said London's uncle.
Lee addressed this as well. "The sporadic - but steady - news of overwhelmed parents killing their own children warns of a crisis building in our own homes."
In Lee's home city, another mother is on trial for killing her autistic son via drug overdose.
"It’s only a matter of time before another child is killed, and we won’t even remember their names. We need to call autism what it is: a public health emergency, no less deadly and devastating than Ebola."
Lee suggests that, while she does admire Seinfeld for striving for autism acceptance, there needs to be a separation between the high-functioning spectrum and the other side of it. Lee also urges society not to gloss over factors like the environment which could, in fact, be playing a part in "robbing these children of their potential and sometimes their lives."
Other autism advocates, like TannersDad Tim, seem to be in agreement with Lee.
Jerry Seinfeld is to #Autism as ANY Man is to Pregnant
— TannersDad Tim (@TannersDad) November 13, 2014
— Kim Rossi Stagliano (@KimStagliano) November 13, 2014
What are your thoughts? Do you agree with Lee?