I should start by saying that I have been scripting Seinfeld the TV show for years. If you’re talking to me and I bust out with some non sequitur that is only semi-appropriate to the situation, odds are that Jerry Seinfeld said it first.
So I was interested when I first saw news reports about Jerry Seinfeld saying he thinks he might be on the spectrum. And then I felt happy. And then I checked social media and I saw lots of anger at him. And then I felt kinda sad and I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
Here’s the thing: I don’t know Jerry Seinfeld. I don’t know his private life. I don’t know how he came to the conclusion that he is autistic. And what’s probably most important, I don’t know his inner life—what goes on inside his own head. None of us do, so I don’t think we are qualified to weigh in on whether he is autistic or not.
Here’s something else: It is very scary as an adult to come out as autistic. It is very scary as an adult who has “passed” for your whole life to come out as autistic. It is hard to tell people who might not believe you that you are autistic. I am absolutely positive that people have doubted my diagnosis, have said that I’m not autistic or not autistic enough.
I am not willing to do that to another person.
I will follow that up with the comment that I absolutely respect self-diagnosis and assert that there are many, many reasons that adults self-diagnose instead of seeking a professional opinion.
I also think it is hard to learn to own your autism when you come to it as an adult. There is a whole set of stigmas and hardships and abuses and discrimination that people who are diagnosed and out as young people have to deal with that I did not. I don’t have that experience. What I have is the very nervewracking experience of growing up different and eventually finding a name for it and finding the courage to take that label for myself.
Still, it is hard to take that label, especially when you have been trying to live as a neurotypical person. So I don’t take much offense to Seinfeld’s use of “on a drawn-out spectrum.” When I first started suspecting I was autistic, my statements were very tempered, “I have autistic traits…” and the like. It is too scary to just come out and say “I am autistic,” so it’s easier to make these softer statements like, “On a drawn-out spectrum…”
I do know that I identify with some aspects of his personality. I think about his comedy and his observational style of humor and about how so much of it is finding the absurd in the conventions of daily life.
I use humor. It is one of the most important things to me. I find life hilarious. I also use comedy as a shield. I use it as a defense mechanism. I use it to amuse myself when I find the typical world strange. I created an entire persona (hey there, Stimey!) that allows me to get out of the house and interact with the world without falling back into crushing depression or incapacitating anxiety. (Also medication. Meds help too.)
Furthermore, I have been closely observing people all of my life, from the gestures they use and the words they say to figuring out social conventions and how I’m supposed to react to things. I remember watching a scary movie as a young person and checking to see if people screamed words or just sounds so I would know what to do if I was ever attacked (by an alien). I remember watching people when I was in college and deciding that I should make eye contact because that’s what other people did, so I started doing it all the time. These are just a couple of examples.
I am not attributing my own feelings and past to Jerry Seinfeld. I’m just saying that when I think about what he said, it makes sense to me. Plus he hangs out with Larry David, and I’m sure those two have to have had conversations about autism, because have you ever listened to Larry David?
I do know that if I had come out as autistic and been attacked the way he has been, it would have broken me. I don’t know what is going on in his brain and I’m not going to judge. I hope he will choose to speak more about it and I hope it will help all of us in the autism community. Jerry Seinfeld has a huge public platform. I hope he uses it well.
That said, I also hope he finds identity and knowledge and acceptance just for himself, however he chooses to identify. Because that is what most of us want. Welcome, Jerry. I’m happy to have you in my community.