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Monday, November 10, 2014

Is Jerry Seinfeld Autistic?

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld recently told NBC anchor Brian Williams that he has autistic traits.
I think on a very drawn-out scale, I think I'm on the spectrum. Basic social engagement is really a struggle. 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-- as dysfunctional. I just think of it as an alternate mindset.
NBC's Tracy Jarrett reports:
Seinfeld's revelation sends a positive message that the autism community is much larger and more diverse than people often understand, Ari Ne’eman, president of the Autistic [Self] Advocacy Network, told NBC News. Ne’eman is living with autism and says that there is still a tremendous amount of stigma surrounding autism that hinders the opportunities available to those with the disorder.
“Think about what this does for a closeted autistic person who goes into the workplace knowing that their co-workers have just seen somebody they know, respect, and have a positive opinion of, like Jerry Seinfeld, identify in this way — it’s a valuable and important step in building a greater tolerance for autism,” Ne’eman said.
At The Age of Autism, Ginger Taylor has a very different view, noting that autism involves deficits in social communication.
Jerry's communication and social skills have made him THE wealthiest actor in the world. He is worth $820 million dollars. He is arguably the world's most famous living comedian. And yet Jerry Seinfeld now claims he has autism.
Mind you, he has not actually been diagnosed with it by any of the one thousand willing and qualified medical and psychiatric professionals within one square mile of wherever he happens to be standing right now, but he thinks that he is on the autism spectrum because:
"Basic social engagement is really a struggle. I'm very literal; when people talk to me and they use expressions, sometimes I don't know what they're saying," he said. "But I don't see it as dysfunctional, I just think of it as an alternate mindset."
And you can watch Jerry struggle with basic social engagement and making friends on his new show where he socially engages his many friends, who happen to be the most famous, popular and clever people in the world, on his new show, “I Can't Look You In The Eye or Answer Questions Without Prompting.” No... that's not it. It's called “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.” A follow-up to the most famous comedy show of the late 20th century in which Jerry spent many years making witty banter that was frequently entered into the English lexicon. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
Autistic people can be highly successful: the obvious example is Temple Grandin.  But it seems highly unlikely that a person with a pervasive developmental disorder could succeed at comedy, particularly the kind of observational comedy that is Seinfeld's trademark. It is far more plausible that he has what psychologist Philip Zimbardo calls "situational shyness," or feelings of awkwardness in specific settings. Zimbardo says that situational shyness is quite common among performers, who are comfortable on stage, where they are in control, but uneasy in social gatherings.