Comedian Jerry Seinfeld shocked the nation recently when he announced he “might be on the autism spectrum” and subsequently created an uproar in the autism community.
Many have viewed his statement as a play for attention and as an insult to those who are severely autistic. However, one must look at the context of the statement before rushing to judgment. Mr. Seinfeld did not claim to have autism; his reflective words implied he may have what John Elder Robison referred to in a recent article in Psychology Today as the Broader Autism Phenotype (BAP)—people who have traits of autism, but not to the degree that they would be diagnosed autistic. According to Robison, millions of people are in this BAP group.
What do we know about autism? According to the National Institutes of Health, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders, characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior. Autistic disorder, sometimes called autism or classical ASD, is the most severe form of ASD, while other conditions along the spectrum include a milder form known as Asperger syndrome, and childhood disintegrative disorder and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (usually referred to as PDD-NOS). Although ASD varies significantly in character and severity, it occurs in all ethnic and socioeconomic groups and affects every age group. Experts estimate that one out of 88 children aged eight will have an ASD (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, March 30, 2012). Males are four times more likely to have an ASD than females. Children whose language skills regress early in life (before age three) appear to have a higher than normal risk of developing epilepsy or seizure-like brain activity.