Some of those who found Seinfeld’s statements offensive were bothered not only by the fact that he made them, but how he went about doing it. Theresa Cianciolo, a behaviorist with the state of Connecticut who specializes in working with twins, triplets and siblings with autism, said the comedian should have avoided a public self-diagnosis. Instead, Cianciolo said, she would have preferred if he had spoken to a mental health professional before associating himself with the autistic spectrum.
“When your child gets an autism diagnosis, it’s devastating,” said Cianciolo, who has a 9-year-old autistic son. “Your life is now over. Your life is your child’s life, and you are forever bound by that diagnosis.”
"A lot of college kids who take a psychology 101 class end up saying ‘I can see a part of myself in that,’” Cianciolo said. “But to hear somebody flippantly align themselves with autism and not sound devastated is hard.”
The reason it’s hard for many in the autistic community, according to Rick Ellis, a clinical psychologist specializing in Asperger's syndrome and autism, is because of the strain autism places on many families. He pointed to a 2009 study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders that found that mothers of autistic children experience a level of chronic stress similar to combat soldiers.
Factoring in health care, school, therapy and family services, other studies, such as this one from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have placed the economic burden created by childhood autism spectrum disorders at more than $20,000 a year. To be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, Ellis said, the symptoms must “limit and impair everyday functioning.”
“It is generally a slap in the face to thousands of parents who have to deal with a child who is non-verbal or severely impacted by autism to compare those children to Bill Gates or any other famous individuals, even of those individuals display some of the minor characteristics of a major condition,” Ellis said.