Dan Aykroyd, still autistic after all these years

5 Dec

With all the recent hullabaloo about how celebrities being autistic somehow harms the autism community (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, check news sources for Jerry Seinfeld and autism), one counter example seems to be ignored: Dan Aykroyd.  Mr. Aykroyd is perhaps most famous for his movie Ghost Busters, but his credits are many (including my favorite, Elwood Blues of the Blues Brothers).  He’s a successful entertainer, and a diagnosed autistic.

Begs the question, why no backlash against him?

One can only speculate, so speculate I will.  First, Mr. Aykroyd’s “coming out” didn’t make such a public splash.  In my mind, that’s the most likely explanation for a lack of backlash.  People could see his statement as more of a threat.  Also, with more publicity, people know that their responses will be more widely read.  A second reason for the difference in response is that Mr. Aykroyd handled the topic much better than did Mr. Seinfeld.   Consider these two news stories:

In 2013 he was interviewed by the Daily Mail.  In ‘I have Asperger’s – one of my symptoms included being obsessed with ghosts’, Mr. Aykroyd responded to the question of what is his “worst illness” thus:

I was diagnosed with Tourette’s at 12. I had physical tics, nervousness and made grunting noises and it affected how outgoing I was. I had therapy which really worked and by 14 my symptoms eased. I also have Asperger’s but I can manage it. It wasn’t diagnosed until the early Eighties when my wife persuaded me to see a doctor. One of my symptoms included my obsession with ghosts and law enforcement — I carry around a police badge with me, for example. I became obsessed by Hans Holzer, the greatest ghost hunter ever. That’s when the idea of my film Ghostbusters was born.

Dan Aykroyd: ‘My Harley-Davidson is a form of psychiatric therapy. You get on that and you don’t need a shrink’

My very mild Asperger’s has helped me creatively. I sometimes hear a voice and think: “That could be a character I could do.” Of course there are many different grades, right up to the autism spectrum, and I am nowhere near that. But I sympathise with children who have it.

Let’s do the compare and contrast with Mr. Aykroyd and Mr. Seinfeld.

1) Mr. Aykroyd has a diagnosis.  About 3 decades ago he was diagnosed.  Of course, back then Asperger syndrome wasn’t an “official diagnosis”.  But, of course Asperger’s work on autism goes back as far as Hans Kanner’s work.  Mr. Seinfeld doesn’t have (nor did he claim to have) a diagnosis.

2) Mr. Aykroyd was also diagnosed with Tourette syndrome.  At age 12.  So, having a neurlogical diagnosis early on gives more credence to his later-in-life autism (Asperger) diagnosis.

3) Mr. Aykroyd has acknowledged that his challenges are much less than most autistics. This is a big point.  Temple Grandin does the same thing, by the way.  As do pretty much every self-advocate I’ve ever encountered in real life or online.

So, yeah, Mr. Aykroyd and Mr. Seinfeld approached their public discussions of autism very differently.  And, as a result have received very different responses.

Leaving aside the lack of any “rage spirals” involved in Mr. Aykroyd’s revelation, what about the basic fact that he’s been essentially ignored?  Here we have an autistic, with comorbid Tourette syndrome, who is successful.  Who credits his autism as contributing to his success.

Why is he ignored?  Perhaps that question is asked and answered.  He’s successful and he credits his autism with contributing to his success.  That doesn’t fit into the narrative.  While Mr. Aykroyd is NLMK (not like my kid), he could be a hero for some in the autism community.  Why can’t we have autistic heroes?  Autistic people whom autistics and non-autistics can look up to and say, “Dang, s/he did well”?

The answer is we can have autistic heroes.  We can acknowledge successful autistics.   Because there is no one face of autism.  Autism can be Dan Aykroyd and be people who need extraordinary support so they don’t end up sedated or restrained in an emergency room.  Sometimes we talk about those who meet a more standard definition of successful. Sometime we talk about those with more extraordinary challenges.  And sometimes we talk about the entire spectrum in a single conversation.  That’s what it means to be part of such a varied community.

By Matt Carey

14 Responses to “Dan Aykroyd, still autistic after all these years”

  1. Brian Deer December 5, 2014 at 23:13 #

    He played Liberace’s manager in Behind the Candelabra in a pretty autistic kind of way. Good movie. Matt Damon and Michael Douglas.

  2. Aaryk Noctivagus December 6, 2014 at 17:42 #

    For me, the hullabaloo was NOT about how a celebrity being Autistic harms the Autism Community – but that a person like Seinfeld who is NOT Autistic saying what he seemed to say when he is not actually Autistic and then a load of hysteria about a non-Autistic being Autistic harms Autism understanding. It was absolutely clear that, in his original statement, that Seinfeld was saying the Spectrum would need drawing out in order to include someone like him. Quote: “I think, on a very drawn out scale, I think I’m on the spectrum.” People were not actually paying attention to the very words he said, being too busy collecting another celebrity scalp for Autism. Being pedantic and detail orientated in my own Autism – I actually read the words.

    Dan Aykroyd and Daryl Hannah are *actual* Autistic people… Seinfeld is NOT. I am an actual Autistic person too. Seinfeld is NOT and has confirmed that he is NOT.

    Also it is very well known that Dan Aykroyd and Daryl Hannah are on the Autistic Specrum – they are not little-known for it in the community but well known. No outcry because they are the real deal.

    After the stupid fuss over his ambiguous and crass (coming from a non-Autistic) statement… and the hysteria which applied meaning to it it did not have, Seinfeld clarified saying, QUOTE: “I don’t have autism, I’m not on the spectrum.”

    Perhaps a question Matt Carey would do better asking himself is… why do people think that collecting the scalps of celebrities somehow supports Understanding of Autism whether the celebrities actually are Autistic or not.

    Another question is, why has Matt Carey ignored Seinfeld’s clarification/retraction, or has he missed that in the news? I guess, for some people, the clarification/retraction doesn’t fit with what they want to be the case.

    • Sullivan (Matt Carey) December 6, 2014 at 18:02 #

      There’s a search function on this page. Type in “Seinfeld” and find what I’ve said on the topic. I assume you have yet to do that as some of your statements are clearly false. For example, why did I ignore Seinfeld’s clarification/retraction? I didn’t. Aside from a quick search of recent articles, clicking on the link in the above article, “no one face of autism”, would bring up: Jerry Seinfeld, still not autistic after all these years.

      Perhaps while you are searching through the many articles I have written here, you could tell me how often I have discussed celebrities and autism (here’s a hint–it’s quite rare). That’s the sort of data one should have in place before one accuses another of “collecting the scalps”.

      By the way, if you actually do the search on Seinfeld, you will see that from the outset I was pointing out that he very clearly qualified his statement as “on a very drawn out scale”. Hence the fact that I focused on the broader autism phenotype in that article (Jerry Seinfeld, the Broader Autism Phenotype and a Major Fail by some Parent Activists).

      I welcome corrections and criticism. But in this case, I don’t believe you did your homework first.

    • Sullivan (Matt Carey) December 6, 2014 at 18:20 #

      Having now pointed out your factual errors, could I ask you to read the above article for content? Note the fact that I am using Mr. Aykroyd’s story to contrast with Mr. Seinfeld’s. I’m pointing exactly what you state–Aykroyd is a diagnosed autistic, Seinfeld is not. Aykroyd has approached the subject with much more thought and has avoided the backlash focused on Mr. Seinfeld.

      • Aaryk Noctivagus December 7, 2014 at 12:33 #

        Thank you for your replies, Matt Carey. I do not follow your blog and neither have I currently the intention to do so. I did, however discover one of the said articles, *after* I posted my reply to you.

        I was commenting and replying to *THIS* article of yours and it is not my fault if I base my reply on one article upon that one article YOU wrote. I am sure many people will only have read this one article having followed the link from elsewhere as I did.

        Reading your articles is *NOT* my homework… you are not my field of study. Sufficient enough for me is to have taken the time to read ONE of your articles and how it misrepresents what was said by many, with the line “With all the recent hullabaloo about how celebrities being autistic somehow harms the autism community…” And *THAT* line, is a STRAW MAN argument with which you underpin your entire article.

        All your other articles display is that you should have known better.

        I made ONE error in my reply and that was, “Another question is, why has Matt Carey ignored Seinfeld’s clarification/retraction, or has he missed that in the news? I guess, for some people, the clarification/retraction doesn’t fit with what they want to be the case.”

        For that, and that alone, Matt Carey, I apologise. Yes, I am not an expert on the writings of Matt Carey. The writings of Matt Carey, at present are not important enough to me for me to rectify that matter though. At present, I do not know why familiarising myself further with your writings should be an important use of my time. Maybe I will read further and maybe I won’t.

      • Sullivan (Matt Carey) December 7, 2014 at 16:35 #

        My apologies if my response was too direct. That’s how I write, especially in response to a very direct set of accusations.

        The statement that I ignored what Mr Seinfeld actually said is a staw man argument. It would have taken very little and very obvious effort to confirm your statement before you wrote it. It’s not much to ask from someone who included in the statement the claim of being detail oriented, is it?

        You jumped to a conclusion that I am somehow collecting celebrity “scalps”. Which is not my approach at all. You now make an insinuation that I expected you to be an “expert on the writings of Matt Carey”. Another straw man and a statement which does nothing to promote discussion.

        I don’t ask people to read everything I write. But if you are going to make statements about me which are quickly and easily falsified, I’m going to do it. Again, my apologies if my response was too direct.

        And, sure, I could have put the discussion in more context and linked to a number of my own articles. That is something I usually would do. Instead I commented that people could search for recent news articles about Mr. Seinfeld. So I learned a lesson to not be so lazy. But that’s rather different than “I should have known better”. The fact that you misinterpreted the article doesn’t make a straw man out of the fact that the pushback Mr. Seinfeld got harms the community. That pushback does harm the community. And, not, that’s not the underpinning of this article. That’s the underpinning of my other articles.

      • Chris December 7, 2014 at 18:32 #

        Just a wee note: much of this misunderstanding upon posting on an unfamiliar blog can be alleviated by searching the subject in question.

        For example if you wish to comment on an article’s treatment of “xyz”, then put “xyz” in the search box located at the top of this page. If a blog does not have a search box then put into your search engine of choice: “xyz site:www.site.org”

        I was given this advice when after we got online with a phone modem many many years ago. I have amended many comments by getting familiar with forum and/or blog before hitting the send button.

    • Cruz June 28, 2022 at 12:23 #

      For the love of Pete. This overly-assertive post is prima facie evidence as to why there isn’t actually an autistic “community” of persons that are inherently hyper-idiosyncratic (making community-like discussions and consensus impossible).

      His pedantic analysis is flat-out logically, semantically, and socially wrong. But one could never actually discuss that fact with him given his disposition, and he would continue to assertively dictate his reality.

  3. lilady December 7, 2014 at 21:23 #

    Wow, I go offline for several hours and I missed these insulting posts by Aaryk Noctivagus.

    Aaryk Noctivagus admits that (s)he hasn’t read Matt Carey’s prior post about Jerry Seinfeld and admits (s)he is a drive-by poster.

    Aaryk you need to own up to your ignorance and learn about posting comments on science blogs i.e., you’d better have something to add to the discussion and stop attacking bloggers you know nothing about.

    (hint) Aaryk could have “googled” Matt Carey to find that he is a member of the IACC and he has a child diagnosed with an ASD:


  4. Naughty Autie June 18, 2018 at 19:36 #

    I believe it’s possible that Dan Aykroyd is autistic, but there’s no way on God’s green earth he got an official diagnosis as early as he claims. The paper from which the criteria were drawn wasn’t even translated into English until 1991 by Uta Frith.


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