“Is every man in America somewhere on it?” Nora Ephron wondered about the autism spectrum in an e-mail to a friend a few months before her death. “Is every producer on it? Is every 8-year-old boy who is obsessed with statistics on it? Sometimes, when we say someone is on the spectrum, do we just mean he’s a prick? Or a pathological narcissist? I notice that at least three times a week I am told (or I tell someone) that some man or other is on the spectrum.”After saying that Romney and Obama are both on the autism spectrum, it lists other celebrities:
The diagnosis is everywhere: Facebook’s former head of engineering has stated that Mark Zuckerberg has “a touch of the Asperger’s.” Time suggested that the intensely awkward Bill Gates is autistic; a biographer of Warren Buffett wrote that the Oracle of Omaha, with his prodigious memory and “fascination with numbers,” has “a vaguely autistic aura.” On Celebrity Rehab, Dr. Drew Pinsky deemed Dennis Rodman (selectively hyperfocused, socially obtuse) a candidate for an Asperger’s diagnosis, and the UCLA specialist brought in to make it official “seemed to concur,” Pinsky told viewers. On the Asperger’s community site Wrong Planet, threads like “Real life celebrities who have or probably have Asperger’s” include Jim Carrey, Adolf Hitler, Daryl Hannah, Slash, Billy Joel, J. K. Rowling, and Adam Carolla, who makes the cut because “I’ve heard guests on his podcast remark on his lack of eye contact.” “Kanye Probably Has Asperger’s,” BuzzFeed recently declared.It concludes that autism specturm is the fad diagnosis of our ae:
Still others are seeing it in themselves. David Byrne: “I was a peculiar young man—borderline Asperger’s, I would guess.” Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, noting his poor eye contact and limited social competency, blogged that Asperger’s symptoms “feel uncomfortably familiar.” Dan Harmon, the volatile creator of NBC’s Community, told an interviewer last year that he had boned up on Asperger’s symptoms when researching the character Abed: “The more I looked them up, the more familiar they seemed.” Dan Aykroyd told NPR’s Terry Gross that he was diagnosed with Asperger’s as a child (a puzzling claim given that the diagnosis didn’t exist prior to 1981, when Aykroyd turned 29); Aykroyd insisted he was being serious, and as evidence of his continuing symptoms he noted his “fascination with law enforcement and the police.”
Every generation has its defining psychiatric malady, confidently diagnosed from afar by armchair non-psychiatrists. In the fifties, all those gray-suited organization men were married to “frigid” women. Until a few years ago, the country of self-obsessed boomers and reality-TV fame-seekers and vain politicians and bubble-riding Ponzi schemers made narcissistic personality disorder—diagnosis code 301.81 in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition—the craziness of the moment. And who among us has not proudly copped to our own “OCD” or “ADD,” deemed a mercurial sibling “seriously bipolar,” written off an erratic ex as “obviously borderline,” or nodded as a laid-off friend pronounced his former boss a “textbook sociopath”? Lately, a new kind of head case stalks the land—staring past us, blurting gaucheries, droning on about the technical minutiae of his boring hobby. And we are ready with our DSM codes: 299.00 (autistic disorder) and 299.80 (Asperger’s disorder).