Famous People Possibly Having Autism Spectrum Disorder
Norm Ledgin caused a stir with his book, Diagnosing Jefferson. The author claimed the genius of America’s third president was due to Autism Spectrum Disorder, which could explain his exceptional intelligence and ability to focus. Obviously, Jefferson carries an extraordinary impact hundreds of years later.
Legin’s next book, Asperger’s and Self-Esteem: Insight and Hope through Famous Role Models, claims that thirteen giants of history – Marie Curie, Albert Einstein, and Mozart among them– also had Autism Spectrum Disorder. Some people also believe that Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Charles Darwin, Galileo, Pablo Picasso, Benjamin Franklin, Margaret Mead, and Aristotle had the disorder.
The point is: some historically important and famous people, many of whom may have been on the spectrum, have had amazing success.
Qualities of “Gifted” People often Match ASD Individuals
There has been little research into the personalities of intellectually gifted people, but the few conducted show they are often intense, restless, strong-willed, and sensitive to light and sound — all qualities of Autism Spectrum Disorder. People with very high IQs often question the status quo, resist direction, have long attention spans, undergo periods of intense work and effort, and like to organize things even as children. Other people often perceive them as “different.” All this is the same with those who have Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Autism Spectrum Disorder has Positive Traits!
Genius is not a prerequisite for an ASD individual
The idea that every child with high functioning autism is a potential genius can put undue pressure on the child. Luke Jackson, a thirteen-year-old author with Autism Spectrum Disorder, complains he is always watching television about high functioning autistic people who can do things like play the piano brilliantly without taking lessons, draw detailed renditions of buildings they only saw once, or add numbers in their heads like Rainman. “I find these television programs depressing,” he says. “I got all the nerdiness and freakishness but none of the genius.”
Many Autism Spectrum Disorder experts such as Dr. Teresa Bolick, Dr. Tony Attwood, and Dierdre Lovecky write about the positive aspects of Autism Spectrum Disorder without focusing on the idea of genius. Lovecky notes how ASD individuals often have advanced vocabularies, recognize patterns others do not, and pursue ideas despite evidence to the contrary because they are not easily swayed by others’ opinions.
An ASD person’s ability to focus on details and their inability to see the big picture means they can come up with solutions to problems others overlook. Those with high functioning autism are often willing to spend long hours in laboratories and in front of computer screens because they do not mind being alone. All this enables them to make tremendous contributions at work and school. Author Patricia Bashe points out that people often admire those who can work independently. She writes, “Our society celebrates the individual who does what he thinks is right and goes his own way.”
Because of their unusual reactions to stimuli such as light and sound, spectrum children see the world differently than most people. They are able to comprehend multiple levels of meanings of words and can be fabulous punsters. When told they had to “eat and run,” one Aspie (a term for those with a form of high functioning autism) said, “Oh, that makes us carnivorous panty hose.”
Truthful, Loyal Friends
Many experts relate people with high functioning autism can make amazingly loyal friends. They are usually free from sexism or racism. They do not manipulate people but speak frankly and honestly. They are sincere truth-tellers, whose naivety and trusting nature makes them incapable of backstabbing.
As employees, they are completely dependable and follow the rules of the job. Psychologist Teresa Bolick writes, “Their deficits are actually assets, as they are unfettered by convention or manners. Aspies help us stay grounded by questioning why we do what we do, why we need to get married” and other basic societal assumptions.
Modern Successful Potentially Having Autism Spectrum Disorder
Lately authors are adding Bill Gates to the list of famous Aspies because of his lack of social skills, inability to make eye contact, tendency to rock back and forth, and his obsession with technology. Diane Kennedy, an author and advocate for Autism Spectrum Disorder, writes, “They are our visionaries, scientists, diplomats, inventors, chefs, artists, writers and musicians. They are the original thinkers and a driving force in our culture.”
Hans Asperger, the German doctor who discovered the syndrome, would agree with Kennedy’s assessment. He believed that “for success in science or art, a dash of autism is essential. The essential ingredient may be an ability to turn away from the everyday world, from the simply practical and to rethink a subject with originality so as to create in new untrodden ways with all abilities channeled into the one specialty.”
Likewise, Dr. Temple Grandin, an adult with autism who became a successful engineer, academic and speaker, believes her disorder is an asset. She once famously called NASA a sheltered workshop for people with Autism Spectrum Disorder. She believes that people with ASD are the great innovators, and “if the world was left to you socialites, nothing would get done and we would still be in caves talking to each other.”
However, it is absolutely impossible to diagnose anyone remotely or posthumously. Clinicians can only diagnose Autism Spectrum Disorder by observing behaviors. Another problem in throwing people like Mozart and Benjamin Franklin into the autism spectrum population is that even if a person is in front of them, doctors have a hard time distinguishing between intellectual giftedness, Attention Deficit Disorder, and Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Focus on the Positives
Parents who successfully raised happy and productive children with autism often advise others to never give up or become discouraged. A child with ASD who receives help and professional services can lead a fulfilling life. The goal is not about genius but rather everyday love and sharing among family members.
Dr. Michael Powers, a psychologist who works with families having a child with autism, says success can be “going to work or school without many incidents.” Success can be simply having “improved social relationships until the time when everyone’s life becomes better. Life then becomes a more cooperative adventure for everyone and all.”