(Photo: Getty Images For Paramount International, Dimitrios Kambouris)

As reported by Variety, SpongeBob SquarePants creator Stephen Hillenburg has announced that he’s been diagnosed with ALS. A source says that he received the diagnosis early and is still in the early stages of the neurodegenerative disease, and Hillenburg confirmed it in a statement that also says he’ll continue to work on the show for as long as he can:

I wanted people to hear directly from me that I have been diagnosed with ALS. Anyone who knows me knows that I will continue to work on SpongeBob SquarePants and my other passions for as long as I am able. My family and I are grateful for the outpouring of love and support. We ask that our sincere request for privacy be honored during this time.

Variety explains that Hillenburg used to be a marine biology teacher who adapted his love for the ocean into one of Nickelodeon’s most popular animated shows of all time. SpongeBob has been on the air since 1999, and Hillenburg recently returned to the series as an executive producer after spending a decade away from Bikini Bottom. He also directed The SpongeBob SquarePants movie in 2004.