Every now and then I get up on a soap box. This is going to be one of those moments.
Last week Jerry Seinfeld disclosed to NBC News' Brian Williams, "I think -- and on a very drawn out scale -- I think I'm on the spectrum. You're never paying attention to the right things. Basic social engagement is really a struggle. I'm very literal. People talk to me and they use expressions and sometimes I don't know what they're saying."
Some people close to those with autism, or suffer from autism themselves, have been upset by his statement. Some going so far as to say he is trying to be fashionable.
Here's what I know.
No one tries to be autistic. There is nothing en vogue about autism. It is not the color of the season, it is not the next greatest thing.
Do you know what autism is?
It is a spectrum. The recent change of the DSM-V, the manual of all psychological illnesses, has reclassified autism to include Aspergers. No longer is Aspergers a separate entity all on its own. It is now all considered part of the autism rainbow. On one side of this arch is a very debilitating severe neurological disorder. Often times these individuals struggle with basic life skills and will require intervention for most of their lives. They are non-verbal, some are not able to use the restroom of their own accord, some are violent. On the other end of this scale are people like my son, people possibly like Jerry Seinfeld.
My son is an 11-year-old child who can tell you anything about history. We have vacationed at places like White Fish Point (where the Edmund Fitzgerald sank), Washington, D.C. (visiting every museum), Chicago Field Museum, and other regional locales that are all related to history. He is fascinated, obsessed with historical things. He also struggles with social norms, does not handle change well, does not make eye contact, has been known to make some noises that are disruptive to others, and has been in four schools in six years. He has autism. He was diagnosed by a Harvard-educated psychologist. There is no doubt he has it; the gold standard of autism testing indicated he does. The genetic testing we had run by one of the top children's geneticist in the country indicates he has abnormalities on chromosomes linked to autism. But you know what I hear all the time? "He doesn't look like he has autism!"
No he doesn't look like he has autism if you mean he doesn't stim or require assistance in everything he does. But he struggles, a lot. He has gone through more in his 11 years of life than most people go through in their entire lives.
Have we not as a country pushed our preconceived notions of what defines a person enough? I have heard adults talk about how a person who is mixed race is deemed not black enough or white enough. Or a person who is homosexual doesn't seem homosexual. Just because they do not fit into your judgmental beliefs of what a black, or white, or gay person is does not make them any less of that person.
So Jerry Seinfeld says he has autistic tendencies. Can we use this a stepping stone to broaden the conversation to how autism affects so many people? How there is such a range to the diagnosis. Can we stop fixating on how someone doesn't fit your prejudiced idea of what autism is? Because I can tell you, if you look into our windows at certain moments of the day you will see autism. It may not look like you think it should, but that doesn't mean it isn't real.
Just ask my 11-year-old son. He can tell you, it is very real.