Johnny Seitz' Biography

Johnny Seitz in his early teensI first heard the word “Autism” in my childhood, as an attempt to explain some of my unusual behaviors. Back then however, it didn’t quite fit. To be autistic meant, “you didn’t talk and you are mentally deficient” but I was neither. I do recall seeing psychologists and taking Rorschach tests. But meaningful answers came much later. A friend gave me a book as I entered my 40’s that opened my eyes. It was “Thinking In Pictures” the best seller by Temple Grandin. She described my childhood and my eccentric behaviors precisely. My behaviors included head-banging, playing with razor blades, (awed by the bright red lines that would appear on my little hands), sitting on the kitchen floor fascinated by breaking egg yolks and constant tantrums. Through the intense intervention of my mother, I have superseded my eccentricities and managed to blend into society’s norms.

I suffer from something called “mind-blindness” the « inability to understand how another person thinks. So simple tasks like using the Internet or a phone book baffle me. There is logic to the organization of listings and a natural path to be followed from one place to another on the World Wide Web; it just isn’t logical to me.

Social interactions or rather the lack of them is one of the dominant characteristics of the autistic individual. I have spent a lot of my life either avoiding or blundering through social interactions. My childhood skills at saying or doing the wrong thing with people are legendary. So, I have devised my own system to be able to tell from how a person stands and walks how they can best be approached and interacted with. I literally can see how they were as a child in juxtaposition to their world. For me it is all written in the way they hold their bodies today.

In a sense, I started devising it as a child myself, intuitively to help me overcome my special challenges. À I also have something called “face blindness” – the inability to register differences in faces. The neurotypical brain has a place that can register and remember thousands of faces, autistic peoples’ brains use other parts of the brain when looking a t faces. I recognize and separately remember individuals based upon attributes such as hairstyle and color, body shape and size, movement patterns and voice qualities rather than facial traits. If any one of these suddenly changes it affects the whole picture. If some one I frequently spent time with and had come to know pretty well, changed their hairstyle dramatically the next time I saw them I would have absolutely no idea who they were or why they suddenly were talking to me.

For the last 20 years my wife Chris and I have developed coping strategies for being in public, such as “Oh, and where do you know Johnny from?” with me listening intently for an answer as to who the person I am talking to is or Chris s carefully scripting me before a phone conversation or a social interaction to remind me to ask about the other person’s family or health because I would never think to not just get to the point of why I am talking to them. Chris has taken her 20 years of being with me into her work as a psychologist and has had unbelievable successes working with autistic children. We appear frequently at autism conferences around the country both presenting our mime production showing the world of the autistic person from inside and sharing our experiences as a couple.

Marcel MarceauI have spent almost my entire life as a mime, first in life and then professionally. I studied in Paris with the Masters, Marcel Marceau and his teacher Etienne Decroux as well as the leading soloists from the Henrik Tomaszewski Polish Ballet Mime Theatre. I have appeared as a mime on French national television with Marcel Marceau and on other programs in Canada and North American television. I have also toured extensively as a mime throughout Europe and North and South America. I am also a professional ballet dancer trained in NYC and LA. When I returned to America I set up a studio in New York and later an 8 credit degree candidacy program at NYU in their undergraduate school of the Arts. I also taught at Harvard, Princeton and several other universities.

My wife and I have recently returned to the United States after spending several years living in South America. While there, we ran a deep jungle ecotourism agency. We are both qualified deep jungle guides and did monthly tours for 3 years. I am a choreographer and a personal trainer. At present, we live in Los Angeles where I facilitate a kind of a physical – life therapy training, showing people how their ways of doing things mentally and emotionally are clearly visible in how they use their muscles and what to do with this information to change the way they currently do things in their lives and their relationships.

 

Harvard Letter