Thursday, November 13, 2014

Jerry Seinfeld, The Spectrum and Light Bulb Moments in Adulthood

Much has been said about the interview Jerry Seinfeld gave this past week where he revealed that he's pretty sure he is on the spectrum. As is often the case online, opinions have run from one end to another. Some people are bent out of shape that he appears to have diagnosed himself, some think his self diagnosis makes sense. Some think this will be a horrible development for the autism community, some think it will be a wonderful development for the same community.

Regardless of how every individual feels about his particular situation, it's done something important. It's generated a conversation about what happens when an adult decides to figure out what is going on with them.

My personal opinion, not that anyone asked, is that his story is his story. Whether he's on the spectrum and where exactly he falls on said spectrum really only matters for him. It's not reflective of the experiences of anyone else, and frankly I don't see why it's even an issue when we are talking about a condition that is so highly individual as this is.

Besides, he's an adult.

The spectrum isn't something cut and dried. It's not like a diagnosis of diabetes that uses specific objective measures. It's not like cancer that there are set tests and thresholds for. It's not. It's nuanced and varied. Every person is different, and at some point the variation of normal become irregular enough that someone is said to be on the spectrum.

Whoever gets to decide what normal is anyway?

But I digress.

There are many people up in arms over the fact that he's self diagnosing. I guess I don't really see it as a horrible thing honestly, at least in this instance.

The diagnosis of spectrum disorders, much like the diagnosis of ADHD or psychological disorders, is based primarily on subjective assessments of behavior. Sure, there may be specific criteria for a formal diagnosis to be triggered, but whether an individual falls on one side or the other of that cutoff is a subjective determination. There's no blood test returning a numeric value that we can just look up on a chart.

When children are screened, the assessments are done by parents and teachers and other adults around the child. When adults are screened, most of the data is self reported. No one knows Jerry better than Jerry, right?

No one knows me as well as I know myself.

The same could be said for most of us, I think.

As an aside, the diagnostic criteria and even the categorization in the most recent DSM aren't without controversy themselves. Asperger's technically isn't even a diagnosis anymore under the current DSM, though many people disagree with its removal.

Labels. They're so damned artificial anyway, aren't they?

We're all just people.

My point is that the system isn't a perfect one, even when the professionals are the ones handling the labels. I don't necessarily see his self-diagnosis as correct or incorrect, mostly because it's not my job to make that call. I see a man who put some pieces together about who he is, realized that maybe there was a reason he is the way he is.

Ultimately, I think that is the most important piece of this story anyway. I can't even begin to tell you how many people I know personally who have had these light bulb moments far into adulthood, these times when they've looked at their lives, and started to wrap their heads around the fact that there might be a reason that they are the way they are.

When we were kids, these conditions weren't diagnosed. We were told to change, to fit in, to deal with it, to stop being weird, whatever. Jerry wasn't diagnosed as a kid because almost no one was back then.

No one ever suspected I had ADHD as a kid because I wasn't hyper and I was smart. Doesn't mean I didn't have it.

Maybe it's anxiety, maybe it's depression. Maybe you have sensory issues. Maybe you get overstimulated easily. Maybe you are an introvert. Maybe you are on the spectrum.


Maybe when you start to figure it all out and it starts to make sense, there is a comfort in knowing that there's a reason that you are the way you are. Maybe you don't necessarily need a doctor to tell you that. Maybe the involvement of the doctor only comes when you start to put the pieces together and finally go in to the office and ask the right questions.

For so many of these conditions, a diagnosis as an adult isn't going to mean much aside from finding an answer.

More than the story with Seinfeld, I look to the character development on the show Parenthood. Hank has been struggling with his own situation for the past few seasons, but if you've watched, you know that he's been struggling with life forever. Confronting the reality that he may very well be on the spectrum has begun to explain a lot of what happened in his past. Knowing how he sees the world, how he interacts with other people, he's beginning to change how he does things. He is taking this condition, learning about it, using that knowledge to adjust to a world that operates differently than he does.

I won't lie. At times, it has been hard to watch because his character is so real in my world. I know Hank. I know what he's been through. I see him working so hard to understand himself, to understand how he can do things differently.

Wanting to do better.

Isn't that what we all want? To do better.

To do that, we need to understand ourselves better. Maybe that means we realize we might have this condition or that condition. Maybe that's not a bad thing. Maybe it's just an explanation of who we are.

Self awareness is always a positive.

Jerry Seinfeld didn't have to tell the world what he believes he's figured out about himself. But he did.

I, for one, am glad he did, because he will prompt other adults to think about these things too.

My ADHD and PTSD, though later confirmed by professionals, were self diagnosed first. Just because I figured it out before someone with a title did doesn't make these conditions less real in my life.

And none of it defines me. It's all just a part of who I am, just like possibly being on the spectrum is part of who Jerry is.

For that matter, I figured out that I had PPD before any professional did too. The anxiety, though....that was diagnosed in the emergency room when I had a panic attack. High five, self!

There's no shame in admitting this stuff. There shouldn't be. If we want our children to accept what they are dealt, we have to be willing to figure out and accept what we have too.

Chance are, it came from somewhere.

***looks around, blink, blink...


  1. Spot on. I was diagnosed with a learning disability in 5th grade. In the evaluation, no one considered that attending three schools in two different states in Third Grade was a factor. They simply diagnosed me, patted me on the head and said, "It's not too bad, just work a little harder."

    Then in college a life altering repressed memory surfaced On. Its. Own. As I've walked through recovery I realized, I don't think it was a learning disability. It was half of my brain trying to deal with a thing it didn't understand. It was traveling through so many schools at a transitional grade.

    Sometimes lightbulb moments save our lives.

  2. I think what bothered me about Seinfeld is that he's living a well-rounded life. Wife, family, fulfilling career, friends, co-workers. It may be true that this entire time, he's been having a difficult time interacting with people, but hell, he's just described a huge percentage of the population. My husband gets stressed interacting with people. Do I think he's on the spectrum? No. Depending on the situation, I feel really self-conscious when I'm talking to other people, and I go over conversations after the fact. Do I think I'm on the spectrum? No. It just makes me think, if everyone has something and no one is "normal," then there's no such thing as normal. And that doesn't really make sense. We can't all be aberrations. At some point, maybe we need to accept that some of these problems we have to overcome are just characteristics.


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