Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects an individual’s social and communication functioning. Often the symptoms appear before three years old. See some of the early signs of autism here. However, the symptoms of autism vary a lot between people. A common phrase heard in the autism community is that “Once you have met one person with autism, you have met one person with autism”. This quote just highlights the diversity of ways that autism can present.
Although autism can create difficulty in learning, many people with autism can not only perform their jobs effectively but succeed at the very highest levels. Prior to the last few years, individuals who had social impairments but no communication difficulties were considered to have Asperger’s Disorder or High Function Autism (HFA). However, since the release of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 5th edition (the guide for psychiatric diagnoses), the diagnosis of Asperger’s Disorder has been removed. Now, we talk about individuals as falling “on the spectrum” of autism.
Below are just a few of the famous people with autism throughout history.
1. Michelangelo – Famous Painter and Sculptor
Known as the painter of “The Creation of Adam,” and the sculptor of “The David”, Michelangelo is considered by scholars to have been autistic. For example , a case study published in the Journal of Medical Biography highlighted his “single-minded work routine, unusual lifestyle, limited interests, poor social and communication skills”. Although he could not have been diagnosed during his lifetime, there is strong evidence to suggest that he would have been diagnosed with autism or Asperger’s today.
2. Albert Einstein – Famous Physicist
Everyone knows Einstein as the one the most famous physicists in history. He is most famous for developing the theory of relativity. He also won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921. One of the world’s foremost experts on autism, Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen, has argued that Einstein had many of the characteristics of someone with high functioning autism or Aspergers. These include difficulty with social interactions and communication issues (e.g., vocal stereotypy or repetition of words/sentences).
3. Sir Isaac Newton – The Most Influential Scientist of All Time
Dr. Baron-Cohen has also argued that Newton was probably autistic. As evidence, Dr. Baron-Cohen mentions Newton’s obsession with work and forgetting to eat and drink, his isolated nature, and interacting with people in a strange way. Despite his challenges, he is known as being one of the most influential scientists of all time. He is particularly well known for developing the theory of gravity, laws of motion, and calculus.
4. Bill Gates – CEO of Microsoft Corporation
What do you know about Bill Gates? He is the founder of Microsoft and of the richest people in the world. He is also well known for his work as a philanthropist through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Some experts believe that he may be autistic due to his tendency to rock while concentrating, shortened and monotoned speech pattern, and tendency to avoid eye contact.
5. Sir Anthony Hopkins – Oscar Award Winning Actor
Anthony Hopkins is probably best known for his role as Dr. Hannibal Lector in The Silence of the Lambs. He has publicly revealed that he was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome late in his life. He mentioned during media interviews such symptoms as his obsessive thinking, and the fact that he could not maintain friendships when he became an adult. Hopkins’ amazing career is proof that ASD is not a hindrance to creative work.
6. James Durbin – A Famous American Singer and Guitarist
James Durbin is a famous American singer and guitarist, but few people know that he was diagnosed with both autism and Tourette’s syndrome as a child. After his noteworthy journey on the 2011 season of American Idol, he is still singing and living a very happy life. During interviews, he shares that singing always helped him to overcome his challenges. He further added that “being different is awesome” and how he’s grateful to the condition because it gives him a chance to help others who also might have some disabilities.
7. Daryl Hannah – American Actress and Environmental Activist
Daryl Hannah is best known for her roles in the American movies Splash, Blade Runner, and Kill Bill. She was diagnosed with autism in her childhood and spent much of her early life alone and used to soothe herself by rocking. After growing up, she managed to use her creative skills to become a famous actress. She is also well known as a political and environmental activist.
8. Courtney Love – Famous Singer and Actress
Courtney Michelle Love, lead vocalist of the famous band Hole, was also diagnosed as autistic at the age of 9. From her early age, she was unusually intelligent but she struggled academically and had trouble making friends in the school. Despite these challenges, she went on to become one of the most influential vocalists of the 20th century.
9. Charles Darwin – An English Naturalist
Charles Darwin was a famous naturalist, someone that studies plants and animals in the places where they live. He is best known for writing a book about evolution called “On the Origin of Species”. Historians believe that Darwin was on the autism spectrum because he was a very quiet child. He did not like playing with other kids and instead played alone. He also had some restricted interests and routines. As an adult, he preferred to communicate by letters rather than talking to people in person.
10. Satoshi Tajiri – Creator of Pokémon
The mastermind behind Pokémon, Satoshi Tajiri has been diagnosed with autism. His various friends and colleagues described him as “eccentric” and “reclusive” but his obsession with insects and video games as a child likely contributed to his ability to create the unforgettable Pokémon. He was able to demonstrate that some of the symptoms of autism (i.e., restricted interests) can sometimes contribute to success.
11. Charles Richter – Inventor of the Richter Magnitude Scale
You may not recognize him his name, but he is remembered every time an earthquake happens. Charles Francis Richter was an American seismologist and best known as the inventor of the Richter magnitude scale, which is used to tell the power of earthquakes. It is believed that Richter may have had autism because he usually experienced difficulty in communicating with other people unless it was on the topic of earthquakes. This type of restricted interest is very common in autism spectrum disorder.
It may have surprised you to learn about these celebrities with autism, but hopefully you have learned that autism is not a barrier to achieving amazing success. We hope that the stories of these people with autism can inspire children to reach for the stars and pursue their dreams in any field they can imagine.