WHAT IS AUTISM:
If you find yourself reading this article, the odds are that you or someone that you love is on the autistic spectrum. That aside, autism spectrum disorder is a neurological disorder that affects roughly one-third of the global population. Per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, it is characterized by deficiencies in communication and social interactions that vary in level of severity. It is considered a spectrum because there is a broad range of signs and symptoms that are different in each individualized case of ASD. As Dr. Stephen Shore said to this end, “If you have met one person with Autism, then you have met one person with autism. Autistic symptomology also includes a need for sameness, to the extent of a severe adherence to almost ritualistic routines, and an almost obsessive fixation on a topic. It is not uncommon for Autism to also include either a hyper-hypo sensitivity to sensory perceptions.
Receiving an Autism diagnosis can be challenging. Regardless of whether or not this is for the recipient or those that care about them. It comes loaded with questions of whether or not they will live a normal life and the like. It can be even more disheartening in the realization that it can be extremely hard to treat this disorder, with so few doctors specializing in Autism.
There is still hope. Those on the autism spectrum are beautiful and gifted souls that more times than not have completely revolutionized the world. For whatever the reason may be, it seems that to master a craft, or to have authentic, and genuine creativity is synonymous with autism and Asperger’s. Dr. Hans Asperger spoke to this when he said, “It seems to excel in the arts and the sciences a touch of autism is essential.” Here it would seem that the autistic mind's fixation on a given topic, attention to detail, and their devotion to routine is actually the very combination for success. Here is a list of some of the most inspirational historical names that found themselves living on the autistic spectrum.
· Albert Einstein
Many experts on the issue speculate as to whether or not the late Astrophysicist Albert Einstein had a form of Asperger’s or mild autism. What we find in the case of Asperger’s is that challenges in social skills coupled with an intensified focus on complex conceptualizations such as much and math. Einstein demonstrated both of these features. Noticeably, Einstein demonstrated delayed speech, repeating sentences up until the age of seven, and showed difficulties in his early education up until he could focus on Physics like he wanted, known to often question the questions that his teachers asked of him. In his professional life, he came across as somewhat aloof, eccentric, and absent-minded in his endeavor to solve higher-level physics problems. While he formulated the theories of general and special relativity, his lectures could be confusing, and he had the tenacity to forget, leaving everyday things like his keys, and wallet behind. One thing is for certain, even though little was known about autism in Einstein’s time, his intensified focus on higher-level sciences definitely borders on the criterion for an ASD diagnosis.
· Andy Warhol
In the bold artistic expressions of Andy Warhol, we undoubtedly see the defining characteristics of an individual living on the spectrum. His paintings showed an astute understanding of both popular culture, capitalism, and consumerism, that proclaimed them in bright neon colors. Whether it was a typical soup can, ketchup bottle, or self-portrait, it was evident that the mind of Warhol was one that not only had an attention to detail but was hyper-focused on patterns and repetition. Even in his social life, Warhol showed every sign of being neurodiverse as was exemplified in his poor social ineptitude, minimal utilization of speech, along with what appeared to be a challenge in recognizing his close friends and acquaintances. Clinical Consultant Judith Gould, of the Lorna Wing Centre for Autism, spoke of this in an interview with, The Guardian, as she commented, “It is fascinating how many of the things he did are typical of autism — his social awkwardness, his obsession with consumer goods, and repetitive artistic style, just to name a few.”
· Barbara McClintock
Hans Asperger’s once stated that “To excel in the arts and the sciences, it seems that a dash of autism is essential.” Nothing could be further than the truth in the case of one Barbara McClintock. McClintock is best known as the famed scientist who won a Nobel Peace Prize in Physiology and Medicine for her extraordinary work and contribution to the field of Biology in her findings related to chromosomes and how they change during reproductive processes. While speculative there were many qualities about McClintock that suggest that this was the case. Most noticeable was her intensified focus on her scientific endeavors that elicited her groundbreaking work. Those that knew her best said that she had the capacity to focus for long periods at a time. She also demonstrated notable hypersensitivities which are typical of autism, as was exemplified in her not wearing certain types of clothing or the way that she would go out to avoid any attention in limelight. While speculative, Autism, ADHD, and other Neurodiversity from Jessica Kingsley Publishers, honored McClintock for her research for autism awareness month.
· Benjamin Banneker
It is believed that those with autism are the most likely to self-actualize and self-transcend themselves. Nothing further than the case can be said about one Benjamin Banneker, who is unique in his own right, even in the case of being on the spectrum. Considered both an Autistic and African American hero, the brilliant 18th and 19th century Banneker went on to become a scholar, farmer, inventor, naturalist, surveyor, author, and astronomer. This all took place at a time when the color of his skin should have placed heavy restrictions on what he could and could not do, and in this way, he truly transcends all his hefty burdens and limitations. He is also believed to be autistic because Banneker was known to be a keen observer paying special attention to the most minute of details, such as the individual components of a friend's watch, that he would later incorporate into his experiments. Like McClintock, he was not formally diagnosed, but again, he has been recognized by many, Autism, ADHD, and Other Neurodiversity from Jessica Kingsley Publisher, included for being on the autistic spectrum.
· Bill Gates
One of the most noticeable defining characteristics of autism is that of an intensified and almost obsessive interest in a particular area or field. Even at the onslaught of his early age, this was present in the Microsoft computer genius Bill Gates. Both he and his life-long friend Warren Buffett were both asked what they needed more of when they were in their vibrant youth, to which they both immediately answered focus. Gates demonstrates many other qualities that are common with individuals with Asperger’s. His so-called social character defects are as revered as his genius, including the likes of having poor eye contact, rocking back and forth, as well as having social deficiencies. Gates typifies the hallmark signs of Asperger’s with his astute understanding of all aspects of the computer world. His dropping out of Harvard was once viewed as a stereotyped challenge and difficulty that individuals on the spectrum encounter in this regard, although it would soon become clear that this was due to his understanding of the growing exigencies developing in the computing world, and because of the fact that he was on to bigger and better things. We also see this in his remarkable and prodigious memory in which he can remember entire bible passages verbatim.
· Bobby Fischer
Chess has been an evolving game that has been around since the 8th century. Formerly known as Chatrang by the people of India, the people of medieval Europe would later go on to change the piece's names and appearance to resemble their courts. For centuries, chess has been considered to be an intellectual man’s game, being one of a cool calculated strategy. When the age of computing dawned, this was demonstrated in whether or not a computer could beat a human being. In this realm, there have arguably been two great names, and it has been that of Harry Kasparov and Bobby Fisher. In the latter, Fisher was the youngest chess master winning the Game of the Century at the age of only 13. There was observed isolation when he lost his championship title. While there was no doubt about his genius, he was mentioned as autistic in Unstrange Minds: Remapping the World of Autism by Roy Grinker. His autistic characteristics were demonstrated in his fixation on chess, his limited ability to understand other people's feelings, his limited empathy with peers, his poor social ability, his failure to develop friendships, and his difficulties in coping with differing environments.
There are many reasons to believe that the writer of Origins of the Species was a neurodiverse Asperger’s type, and it was typified in many of his behaviors. In an annual meet at Aykroyd Royal College of Psychiatrists Faculty of Academic Psychiatry, leading Psychiatrist Professor Fitzgerald documented the ways in which this was the case. The author and scientist were known to have amazing attention to detail while also struggling with social engagements. Darwin was known for great creativity, authenticity, and originality which is often associated with ASD. This laser-like hyperfocus permitted Darwin to see things that otherwise went overlooked, and a restless capacity and energy to examine a narrow task. Again, the propensity to have a near-obsessive and ritualistic interest in a specific topic is found in the way that Darwin spent nearly eight years in his youth studying barnacles which he wrote entire books on even in his early youth.
· Dan Aykroyd
Dan Aykroyd was formerly diagnosed with both Tourette’s and Autism as a child in the early 1980s. The writer’s autistic unsurprisingly centers around ghosts and law enforcement, which gave him the idea for ghostbusters. Aykroyd has spoken out about his autism saying that it has helped him with his creativity, going on to say that he would just hear a voice and think to himself that that was a character that he could play. Further elaborating on the matter, he is quoted saying, “One of my symptoms included my obsession with ghosts and law enforcement, for example. I became obsessed with Hanz Holzer, the greatest ghost hunter ever. That’s when the idea of my film Ghostbusters was born. Dan Aykroyd has appeared in countless comedic hits, and can even be considered a comic genius, his career including the likes of Saturday Night, where his unique brand and intensity got him the role, as well as his creation of the Blues Brothers. As part of his intensified interests, Aykroyd also has a degree in Criminology and Sociology.
· Daryl Hannah
In September of 2013 Daryl Hannah made headlines as she publicly opened up about her being diagnosed with autism in her youth. In an interview with, People, magazine, the Wall Street actress confined that she had been diagnosed with a neurological condition in her early childhood and that she hid this fact from her movie executives. Hannah described it as a debilitating shyness that made it near impossible for her to do talk shows and premieres because of how terrified she was.
· Emily Dickenson
In the 1990's book, Writer’s on the Spectrum: How Autism and Asperger’s Have Influenced Literary Writing, Julie Brown goes on to list the characteristics in which it appears that the prolific writer was autistic during a time that little was known about the disorder. She stipulated that this was in fact the case as is evident in her profound and copious number of writings. The thing that should be noted here was that the writing was extremely unconditional, especially for a woman at the time. There are also cases made for Dickenson’s Autism due to the fact that she was highly secular and isolative, being much of a recluse, as well as having atypical social habits, although she was better with children. Known to be efficient in around the housework like gardening and cooking, Dickenson also had a peculiar sense of fashion, wearing the same style of clothing and sporting white attire. There are also arguments for her autism as a result of her having epilepsy which oftentimes co-occurs in individuals on the spectrum.
· Eminem (Marshall Mathers)
The iconic pop sensation Eminem has recently admitted to and spoken out about his being on the autistic spectrum. He is well-known for his rebellious and unique style that speaks of his rough upbringing and struggles with psychotropic pills and addictions while dissing every celebrity in the spotlight. Eminem has been known to do this in a way that cannot be duplicated while maintaining a humorous yet slightly macabre mood in dropping bombs on the industry. He certainly has shown a hyper-intensive focus on the rap industry to earn him the title of the Rap God, and he has recently incorporated this in his songs of recent such as the song, “Wicked Ways,” where he states, “Ever heard of Asperger’s? Its what you’re suffering from when you simply don’t care if it’s an 80-degree day and there’s no air conditioning,” which would also imply that the rapper has some of the underlying sensitivities to sensory perception.
· Hans Christian Anderson
Psychiatrists Julie Brown and Michael Fitzgerald have both spectated as to whether or not the beloved author would have had high functioning autism or Asperger’s syndrome. In a scholarly article entitled, Autism and the Writings of Hans Christian Andersen, Brown goes on to note how the Ugly Duckling and other writings were analogies from Andersen’s own difficulties in life, and that it is very likely that he suffered from the disorder. The article finds that his social impairments, repetitive routines, speech and language peculiarities, non-verbal communication, and narrow interests are all highly indicative of this.
· Henry Cavendish
Henry Cavendish was a philosopher and scientist that had one of the most notorious personalities at the time. As a chemist and physicist, he accomplished much but published little. He played an essential role in the discovery of what he referred to as flammable air, which is better known to us as hydrogen. Cavendish was well-known for his timid shyness and peculiar personality. The scientist also had a knack for attention to detail with the utmost level of precision that contributed to his finding in the composition of atmospheric air, properties of different gases, the synthesis of water, the calculations and density of the earth, and many other remarkable feats. The question of whether Cavendish had Asperger’s or not had been a thoroughly examined topic of research by many critically acclaimed universities, such as can be found in the research gate, Henry Cavendish and Asperger’s Syndrome: Aa New Understanding of the Scientist. This topic also resurfaces in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine article, Singular Scientists, which probes whether or not Einstein, Newton, and Cavendish had the disorder or not as James Loan notes, ” A strong adherence to routine is another characteristic of Asperger people. Cavendish was very much a man of habit.”
· Henry David Thoreau
· Thoreau is yet another great exemplification of a writer on the spectrum that also appears in Brown’s, “Writers on the Spectrum: How Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome Have Influenced Writing.” According to the Professor, Walden appears to be a self-help book for individuals living on the autistic spectrum. She first had the inclination that Thoreau was on the spectrum by noticing the attention to detail that he put into describing nature, especially that of the pond; something that she noted that the students found to be quite boring. Julie goes on to mention how there were other aspects in the descriptions of Thoreau such as his emphasis on a routine of eating simply and having a regular routine, as well as a small space for yourself. She felt that this was further the case as was apparent in his solitary nature, his social difficulties, and the way that he came across as reserved. Oh yeah, and there was the fixation on his writing and transcendentalism as well, a writing movement that is one of the most thoroughly studied at the collegiate level, no pun intended.
· James Joyce
Once again, we see this trend of how autistic minds are at the forefront of artistic and scientific endeavors in the creative genius of writer James Joyce. It is well-known that the writer purposely composed his work in an out of sequence format to create his own style. The author also struggled with many phobias that he took in from early childhood. That being said, there have been many mentions that the writer displayed Asperger’s, such as the piece, The Greatest Works of Fiction Were Autistic Narratives: Lewis Carroll, Samuel Beckett, Herman Melville, and James Joyce, as written by Psychiatrist Michael Fitzgerald.
· Jerry Seinfeld
Joining the likes of Daryl Hannah, Jerry Steinfeld openly commented on his autism back in late 2013, as was noted in, Today.” Seinfeld elaborated on this by commenting that he has always related to the diagnosis such as his challenges in social interactions. He also says that he takes things in a very literal sort of way, which is often the case with so many on the spectrum. According to Steinfeld, he always felt that he just didn’t focus on the right things. Further articulating on the matter, he confined to how when people use certain facial expressions, he just doesn’t know what they are saying; something that he has viewed as a different state of mind.
· Lewis Carroll
Next up on our list, is another demonstration of a writer that has appeared in numerous in-depth scholarly studies into their having autism or not, including the works of Brown and Fitzgerald. We see bits of his autism in his difficulties in a speech noted in his stammering in social groups. The authors point out that his nonsensical language is another strong indication that the author lived with autism, and that this could be further substantiated in his repetitive activities like the need for going on twenty-mile walks every day. Carroll also struggled in the social setting, with his students having difficulties understanding his lectures. It is believed that Alice and Wonderland can also be viewed as his own analogy for living on the spectrum, as he tried to relate his experiences of living in his own little world.
Yet another example of the tortured autistic artist, proving Asperger’s quote correct, Michelangelo, one of the world’s greatest painters also is believed to have had a form of Asperger’s. In an article presented in the Journal of Medical Biography, Ph.D. and Psychiatrist Muhammad Arshad list all the ways in which this was the case. Michelangelo too had difficulties with social interactions in many different ways. For one, he was a lone wolf. This attributed itself mainly to his fixation on wanting to work on his masterpieces, and again, this high propensity to focus on an individual interest is common in those on the spectrum. Nevertheless, this resulted in Michelangelo having difficulties making and maintaining relationships in his social sphere. Another reason for this belief is that it was noted how the brilliant artist struggled in his communication, especially in the area of transitions and holding up his end of the conversation.
· Nikola Tesla
Nicola Tesla is a unique wild card in that the Serbian inventor is surrounded by such enigmatic myths to over glorify his noted achievements to the point that it’s hard to separate fact from fiction. Nevertheless, the fact remains that it is greatly speculated that Tesla resided somewhere along the spectrum. To this end, Tesla undoubtedly demonstrated every last characteristic of someone with autism. He was entirely socially awkward, is believed to say, “Anti-social behavior is a trait of intelligence in a world full of conformists.” Tesla was even known to dine alone and believe it or not needed someone to help him take care of himself as he busied himself with his projects. Like many other autistic types, Tesla saw the world in 3D pictures, with the ability to imagine his projects being built out in his mind. We also see his strict adherence to routine as he needed to do things in three, as so many requote his declaring the importance of 3,6, and 9.
· Satoshi Tajiri
Satoshi Tajiri is the brilliant mind that conceptualized the idea for Pokémon. Tajiri has said that his Autism helped in the development of this fantasy world. When he was a small child he had a passion for collecting insects. This preoccupation of his was a concern of his as it developed over the years. It began with his looking through ponds, forests, and fields in the search of them, to incorporating them into his other passion of video games. As a result of this intensified interest, Tajiri earned the nickname of Dr. Bug. His inspiration for Pokémon came from wanting to give children the opportunity to hunt different things as he had done.
· Sir Isaac Newton
Many highly esteemed resources have claimed that Sir Isaac Newton is perhaps one of the earliest plausible cases of ASD. He certainly had deficiencies in both the areas of communication and social interactions. He was known to be reserved and rarely if ever spoke. Even as a professor, his students had a hard time understanding his lectures. There were many occasions that the brilliant Physicist and author of the Principia would go into breakdowns when he found out that there were errors in his work. His scientific contributions highlight his high-level attention to detail that would be expected for one living on the spectrum. Newton too struggled in forming and maintaining friends. Just as he typified the need for rigid adherence to routine. For instance, he was known for being so heavily reliant on his routines, with such a focus on his work that he would forget to eat. As with a handful of other scientists on this list, Newton appears in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine and a number of other scholarly journals that inquire whether or not he had a form of autism or not.
· Stanly Kubrick
Kubrick also makes Fitzgerald’s list of artists living on the spectrum and is diagnosed by Viktoria Lyons as well in her book, Asperger Syndrome: A Gift or a Curse? There is no doubt that the prodigious possessed many of the defining characteristics of the neurological disorder. His movies were a testimony to his photographic mindset, and he had deficiencies in all of the specified areas. That is to say that he had demonstrated marginal social skills, with a fixation on a specific interest, rigidity and adherence to ritualized routine, and many of the other symptoms that one would find in high functioning Asperger’s.
· Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs falls under the category of mere speculation, albeit in recent years there has been a strong case that he fell on the spectrum. As we have seen in a number of those listed in this article, Jobs had the obsessive attention to detail that allowed him to make great products with Apple Inc. Those that knew him best would comment on his difficulties in social interactions, noting the Jobs distortion factor, where he saw things his own way. We see this fixated dedication to a specific subject even in some of his most infamous speeches, such as when he quipped, “The only way to do great work is to do something that you are passionate about. That you love.” This was something that jobs reiterated over and over again. Jobs also strongly adhered to a specified routine, liking things done a certain way. Jobs knew the design of a computer so well that he even knew the number of screws that came in an individual unit.
· Susan Boyle
True beauty is the stuff that we are made of, and no one proves this more than our next demonstration in Susan Boyle, who blew Simon Cowell and spectators away with her rendition of, “I dreamed a dream,” during Britain’s Got Talent. During the era that Steinfeld, Hannah, and a number of other celebrities went public with their Asperger’s diagnosis, Boyle followed quickly in their wake in an interview with, Observer.
· Temple Grandin
Temple Grandin is arguably one of the biggest advocates for ASD. She is an American Scientist and animal behaviorist with a specialty in the humane treatment of livestock for slaughter. She is perhaps best known for the movie, The Girl Who Saw in Pictures,’ which narrates Grandin’s life growing up on the autistic spectrum.
· Thomas Jefferson
As previously noted, autism is characterized by deficiencies in areas of communication and social interaction coupled with the onslaught of strict, fixated, and repetitive behaviors coupled with rigid routines and rituals. According to Applied Behavior Analysis, the third president of the United States is another speculated individual living on the autistic spectrum. They attribute this to the fact that the author of the Declaration of Independence struggled to relate on any marginal social level being both shy and awkward in the social setting. Jefferson was also noticeably challenged in his speech, struggling with public speaking. Advocates for this argumentation also lean towards the fact that he was extremely sensitive to sounds.
· Tim Burton
Tim Burton first started identifying with ASD and more specifically a moderate form of Asperger’s after conducting his own research into the matter with his then-wife Helena Bonham-Carter. “That’s definitely you,” she had commented after going over all the signs and symptoms of the disorder with Burton. From his youth, Burton had always been shy, awkward, and reclusive, showing challenges in social engagement. In fact, in Edward Scissorhands, one of his earlier works was his artistic expressions that depicted how he felt when he was younger. Carter has commented on how Burton’s work habits border on the obsessive type of rigid adherence to routine and structure expected in those on the spectrum; something that Burton himself has talked about saying that it’s like he sees a movie reel playing in his mind that he spends all day writing out. It is interesting to note that Burton did not excel in the collegiate environment because his unique and renowned style which is a true grit combination of grungy, gritty, realism was not well-received there.
· Paul Dirac
Paul Dirac was a British Theoretical physicist. He was the Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University and the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for his contributions in the areas of quantum mechanics and electrodynamics. Dirac also won the Copley Medal as well as the Max Plank Medal. From his genius, we have the likes of the Dirac Equation which details the behavior of fermions in antimatter. Numerous modern-day psychologists and psychiatrists speculate that the physicist had a moderate form of Asperger’s. He is mentioned in this regard with his counterparts in the Journal of Royal Society of Medicine. Dirac also appears in the book, Neurotribes, by Steve Silberman, who meticulously researched this topic thoroughly, in addition to the book, The Strangest Man,’ which gives the same account. To this end, Baron-Cohen has said that this was the case as was exemplified in his prolonged periods of silence, his being notorious for being emotionless to various events. It is also well-known that he took the statements of others very literally and carried with him a number of the hallmark traits of an individual with autism.
· William Butler Yeats
It is no surprise that the brilliant American author William Butler Yeats is another who makes Processor Michael Fitzgerald's list of novelists living on the autistic spectrum. According to Fitzgerald, Yeats demonstrated all the classic symptoms of Asperger’s with his having reading and writing challenges in school. Yeats was also bullied and tormented in his youth for standing out and being so different, hinting at social difficulties. To this end, Yeats did very poorly in his education, failing to get into Trinity College Dublin. Fitzgerald’s arguments on Yeats's underlying case of Asperger’s can be found on his personal website as well in his book, Unstoppable Genius: Irish Geniuses and Asperger’s Syndrome, as well as in that, In Autism and Creativity: Is There a Link between Autism in Men and Exceptional Ability?
· Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
What other profession would need acute or hypersensitivity to all sensory perceptions than that of musical composers? This cannot be stressed enough in the case of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. He was so sensitive to sound that he could recall and learn entire songs before the time that he was six years old. So sensitive was Mozart to loud sounds, that they would actually make him physically ill. This hypersensitivity to sounds and sensory perception has long been a telltale sign of autism. Those that knew Mozart well said that he came with a set of unusual and even dangerous social behaviors. There are stories that he would at times become aloof and dance or prance around like a cat, and to this end struggled with what seemed to be impulse control. Speaking to this matter, his sister had stated that Mozart never learned to leverage the most rudimentary form of self-control, and this seemed evident even in his music. The genius of his music shows an intensified and fixated focus on a specific topic. Here, it would definitely seem that he meets all the criteria.
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