If not for Dr. Leo Kanner in 1943 and Dr. Asperger in 1944, autism as a neurological and behavioral condition might still be an “unknown” disorder. Though their studies were published, much of society did not really have a clear picture on what “autism” is per se and did not know how to distinguish those who are living in the spectrum from those who have mental disorders. Autism has always been thought of as a “new condition” but, looking back—given what we know know—there are various famous people whom today would be recognized as “on the spectrum.
1. Albert Einstein
Known as a brilliant theoretical physicist and philosopher, Albert Einstein is believed to have had an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Not only did he have issues with social interaction, but he also had tactile sensitivity, language/speech problems, and had difficulty learning while in school. Imagine someone whose ideas were oozing from his brain and, yet, he fell behind in school. While he married and had children, it was noted that Einstein could not stand being touched by his children or by his wife. As autism has a wide-ranging spectrum, it is highly debated up to this day on whether Einstein’s “issues” are character traits of autism or simply, quirkiness on his part.
2. Sir Isaac Newton
Newton was renowned for his keenness on routines. When he was scheduled to give a lecture, he insisted the said event should go as planned, whether there was an audience or not. He was known to be very quiet and did not participate in typical conversations. Subsequently, the amount of focus he had kept him glued to his works and studies. At times, he would forget to eat..Newton was also known to be not-that-friendly with his peers and would often block any attention to himself—a common trait among people on the spectrum.
3. Charles Darwin
Research done by Professor Michael Fitzgerald has supplied numerous facts and theories on whether the brain behind The Evolution Theory was autistic. Darwin chose to live in solitude and avoided interaction with others as much as he could. His only means of communication was through letters. Understandably, he was also fixated on chemistry and gadgets to the point of obsession. Knowing this, there is a high chance that, indeed, Charles Darwin lived on the spectrum.
4. Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart
Simply known as Mozart in modern society, this music prodigy was renowned for his eccentricity and oddness. From repetitive facial expressions to involuntary reflexes of his hands and feet, to hypersensitivity to loud sounds, echolalia, impoliteness and frequent mood swings and hyperactivity, there is little doubt that this famous classical composer surfed the spectrum., but there wasn’t a clear diagnosis on autism during his lifetime.
5. Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni
Known simply as Michelangelo throughout history, not only did he displayed brilliance as an artist but as a poet as well. However, many researchers like Dr. Arshad and Professor Fitzgerald believed that Michelangelo had Asperger’s Syndrome or high-function autism. Known for his fiery temper and obsessive-compulsive nature, Michelangelo was also noted to have a dedicated and repetitive work routine, poor social and communication skills, and limited interests. He was renowned for his unusual lifestyle and is,often described as “living in his own private reality.” These characteristics could have pointed to autism if diagnosed today.
6. Nikola Tesla
A brilliant inventor and, perhaps, the only person who could outshine Thomas Edison, Nikol Tesla was also known to be an eccentric, had a series of phobias, sensitivity to light and sound, and focused on numbers. It is believed that Tesla would never stay in rooms which were not divisible by 3. He could be nice in one setting and then nasty the next minute, especially when defending his strange beliefs. If diagnosed today, there is no doubt Nikola Tesla would pass an “autism test” with flying colors.
7. Thomas Jefferson
The key writer of the Declaration of Independence and the third President of the United States was believed to have Asperger’s syndrome. Not only was President Jefferson shy, he had a hard time interacting with other, and showed great difficulties when speaking in public. He was also overly sensitive to loud noise. His obsessionswith home remodeling, his penchant of wearing slippers only to important state meetings, and keeping a mockingbird on his shoulders were not only sign of eccentricity but, if diagnosed today, were clear signs of autism.
8. James Garfield
The last of the “log cabin” presidents, James Garfield was also suspected to be an autism-savant. The 20th US President was not only known for his volatile nature but most especially of his ability to write Greek with one hand, and Latin with the other—simultaneously.
9. Stanley Kubrick
The celebrated American film director was known as a coldblooded perfectionist among his peers. He had a fixation on getting scenes the way he wanted them, leaving stars in his films tormented and stressed-out. Reclusive and known to keep a considerable distance from others, he was also known for his brilliance in playing chess. He had an obsession with animals, was uncomplimentary, and displayed lack of empathy towards others. A true genius in filmmaking, Kubrick would definitely pass the autism marker if diagnosed appropriately.
10. Bill Gates
Topping the list of the richest people around the globe, the co-founder of Microsoft is also believed to have Asperger’s Syndrome, a high-functioning autism. He displays a technical acumen and pays close attention to details. He had perfect scores on SATs and exams, displayed clipped monotonous speech pattern, is distant and avoids many forms of social interaction, avoids eye contact, and exhibits mood swings when displeased. These all point toward Gates having an ASD.
This list shows only a fraction of the famous people believed to have autism. With 1 in every 68 children in the U.S. alone diagnosed with ASD, today there is every reason to believe that these greats and others lived with the challenges ASD buts forth.
By Pamela Bryson-Weaver, author of Living Autism Day by Day: Daily Reflections and Strategies to Give You Hope and Courage. Bryson-Weaver, whose youngest son has autism, is the past president of the Autism Society in New Brunswick.www.livingautismnow.com.