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Autism Advocates Hope Jerry Seinfeld's Words Help Fight Stigma

In an interview with Brian Williams, Jerry Seinfeld said he struggles with social engagement and believes he is on the autism spectrum.
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Autism advocates on Friday applauded Jerry Seinfeld's disclosure that he may be autistic, while warning against making him the poster boy for a disorder that is no laughing matter.

“I think, on a very drawn-out scale, I think I’m on the spectrum,” Seinfeld told NBC Nightly News’ Brian Williams.

"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."

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 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.

Liz Feld, president of Autism Speaks, agreed, pointing out that “there are many people on the autism spectrum who can relate to Jerry’s heartfelt comments about his own experiences.”

However, founding member and president of the National Autism Association, Wendy Fournier, cautions that Seinfeld’s comments run the risk of oversimplifying autism disorder and can potentially harm the very serious effects that autism can have on a severely impacted individual and their loved ones.

Fournier has a 14-year-old daughter with autism who needs around-the-clock care.

It is important to remember that autism spectrum disorder is a spectrum disorder, said Tonia Ferguson of the Autism Society: “We have to continue to make people aware of what the spectrum of autism is.”