In Episode 273 of John August’s Scriptnotes podcast with Craig Mazin, a listener with autism, named Thomas, writes in to the hosts. Thomas writes in to further encourage Matthew, a listener/screenwriter also with autism spectrum disorder, who had written in himself with a letter that was read in Episode 271. (That’s right. This week we are going back to 2016.)
Thomas mentions that none-other-than Steven Spielberg had succeeded despite self-diagnosing himself with mild autism. What the what?!? I had never heard that, so I googled it. Low and behold, it is true. Or at least true enough. It seems that Steven Spielberg has discussed extensively his dyslexia. True, dyslexia is not actually on the autism spectrum — but dyslexia is a co-morbid disorder associated with autism. So it’s still a hidden disability, making Thomas’ point still valid. The title of this blog post is Thomas’ advice to Matthew.
My position is that this episode also, interestingly enough, underscores the two-edged sword of celebrity embracement of people with disabilities causes. Sure, they can bring much-needed awareness to a cause — but they also can be a source of, or an impetus for, loads of misinformation. My google search not only turned up the truth about Spielberg, it also turned up scores of blogs and YouTube videos misreporting half-truths and outright falsehoods. Several sources stated that Spielberg has Asperger’s Syndrome with no evidence whatsoever.
Let me add here that none of this is Spielberg’s fault. He discussed his dyslexia. No harm in that. It was others, coming along later, many well-intentioned, that misquoted him (or repeated someone else misquoting him).
On the other hand, there’s another hand. When a celebrity does come out with their autism, it can hit all the major news media — USA Today and NBC News, for example — as it did when Jerry Seinfeld confessed his suspicion that he could be placed along the autism spectrum. Yes, it made the news, but more importantly — definitions of what autism is, and the effects it has on people in general — also made the news. See the last half of this article here.
Lastly, getting back to celebrities-in-their-own-right John and Craig, John then tells us that another listener wrote in with a great blog post which explains that the autism spectrum isn’t really like a numerical scale from 1 to 100, but it is more like a color wheel. Then, before moving onto the next topic, John mentions one last listener points out that the Writer’s Guild does have a Writers with Disabilities Committee now, and they include autism among the disabilities they address.