Comedian Jerry Seinfeld opened the door for me — figuratively, not literally.
Brian Williams, NBC Evening News, did an interview with Seinfeld (11/6/14) to showcase his fifth season of “Comedians in cars getting coffee” web series. Seinfeld veered from the topic however, when he told Williams he’d decided he was someplace on the Autism Spectrum. He’d seen the Broadway play “The curious incident of the dog in the nightime” based on the book by Mark Haddon, and he recognized himself in lead character Christopher Boone. Young Boone, uncomfortable with eye contact, being touched, and with people in general, all common autism traits, is not labeled in the book or the play.
He went on to say he’s observed in himself behavior that makes him think he may have autism. “I think, on a very drawn-out scale, I’m on the spectrum,” he said. “Basic social engagement is really a struggle. … But I don’t see it as dysfunctional. I just think of it as an alternate mindset.”
When I watched the interview and a follow-up the next evening, I realized it gave me the opening I’d been looking for to go beyond dementia in this blog. In “Thinking for two” (9/15/14), I wrote: “What keeps Peter somewhat steady, I think, is that he is now, and always has been, so bloody single-minded, the effects of a separate issue. I never thought I’d be glad that was the case.”
The “separate issue” I hinted at was known as Asperger syndrome (AS) until two years ago. For some years, AS was considered a less severe form of autism. Long before dementia and possible Alzheimer’s disease entered our lives, Leslie described AS to me. I’ve always loved hearing my daughters talk about their careers, Leslie’s teaching related to autism spectrum disorders,* and the drama that is inherent in Carolynn’s oncology nursing field.
[*The American Psychological Association did away with the term Asperger’s Syndrome in 2012. But it was years earlier that Leslie enlightened me about AS, so I will use the term here, and stand corrected by my daughter later.]
In our long-ago conversation Leslie explained that people with the diagnosis frequently were slow to talk as children, unable to converse as adults, couldn’t look others in the eye or show emotion, and they weren’t necessarily personable.
“That sounds like Peter!” I said. “His mother had a stack of books she’d read when he was little to try to figure out why he wouldn’t talk. He was such a loner, but always comfortable with much older people or much younger children.” That was still true. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
“I didn’t know all that, Mom,” Leslie said, “but, you’re right, a lot of of the characteristics apply, and goodness knows he’s uncomfortable in social situations.”
She said she’d test him — Leslie can get Peter to agree to anything — and thus that part of our journey began.