Coming Out of the Autism Closet

Unless you are solar-powered and stuck on a comet in an inky crevasse (<-- Roman-approved vocabulary word), then you know the news. Jerry Seinfeld may - or may not - have AUTISM. The other shoe? Dropped. Oh, and it probably doesn't have laces... for our purposes, let's just imagine a shoe with velcro, shall we?

And like when after much soul searching, an individual comes out of the closet ready to embrace their full identity and present their authentic selves to the world, public reaction is divided. Because while some eagerly await with open arms and a perfectly dosed gin & tonic, others ignore, ghost, measure, judge, and are generally ready to slam that door shut.

Like in this article, where the claim is that Seinfeld's "not helping" because he's too high functioning and not representative of the "reality" of autism. The sensationalist conclusion: research may suffer!

Fact: we're not like Seinfeld. No one is.* I mean, for starters, we're not exactly getting rich doing this autism gig. <-- LOL, sort of.

But the point is that Seinfeld doesn't have to help us. His door-opening moment isn't even about us and our struggles down on the lower functioning end of the rainbow, where as they say, the food is terrible and the portions are so small. Holding him accountable for unacceptably low autism intensity levels has an unwelcome tinge of lesser-mindedness, of not being black enough, or gay enough. Ew.

So does that mean that unless you are totally "off the rainbow" autistic, we don't want to know... just in case *funding* might tank? Pardon me while I take the slow road for a minute. Autism is a spectrum disorder precisely because it encompasses a broad range of abilities and disabilities, from ROY G BIV red all the way back around to violet. The "reality" of autism is that no two people are alike: if you meet a minimum of criteria, you're in the club.

I prefer to think of Seinfeld's announcement in these terms- *if* he has autism, *then* autism is the very REASON why he is so driven, so focused, so creative, and so meticulously skilled at making everyone laugh. And probably also why he is so attuned to show us the commonplace from a different perspective, like when he says:

"Somebody just gave me a shower radio. Thanks a lot. Do you really want music in the shower? I guess there's no better place to dance than a slick surface next to a glass door."

What if - instead - we took OFF the closet door? What if we all owned our weirdness, "came out," and took the tyrannical power out of NORMAL? Like in this brilliant video. Having autism could be as cool as being gay! And really- isn't that the goal? Being seen as a person, and not as a label? That, the washboard abs and extra disposable income?

Seinfeld is an early autism adopter. He's helping to explode the neurological STIGMA of autism- this is the stuff of awareness. As in: Jerry Seinfeld: The Autistic Comedian. It's a good start but I find it lacking, because awareness is weak sauce.

The end game is to have no QUALIFIER either. As in: Jerry Seinfeld: The Comedian. Period. No one wants to be known as the blind this, or the female that, intimating that they arrived where they are in life despite themselves.

Besides, normal is a fantasy, everyone is weird,** and "when everyone's super, no one is."** We are all chromo-sapiens.****

The more autism "comes out," the more people are challenged by their prejudices about what sorts of lives are worth living. But even the most spry and sparkly among us are, as the late paraplegic writer Reynolds Price was wont to say, only "temporarily abled."

So... if we are lucky... that bell? Is tolling for each and every one of us. Sooner or later.

So let's get some practice in and be more than aware, more than tolerant. Let's learn how to make the perfect gin & tonic, smile, and be kind to everyone, most especially to the ones brave enough to reveal their true natures.

And if that sounds like too much work, might I interest you in a shower radio?


PS The image was taken of Romi trying his hand at stand-up comedy at Gotham Comedy Club in New York City this summer. He covered bears, clowns, buzzards, pigeons, the subway, and Jesus. Then dropped the mic.

* You're welcome. Signed, Captain Obvious.

** Hat tip to my braincrush Seth Godin and his entire book on the subject.

*** Syndrome says this in The Incredibles, best. movie. ever.

**** I just made that one up. T-shirt coming soon.

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