Though autism is said to affect one in every 59 people in the United States, for those who have been diagnosed with autism, Asperger’s syndrome, or another developmental disorder on the autism spectrum, the world can sometimes feel like a lonely place. While autism remains relatively misunderstood, one thing is for certain; those with autism are just as capable as anyone else of achieving incredible success. The proof? These famous people with autism: 30 incredibly successful people on the spectrum. The first 20 are modern-day people on the autism spectrum; the last 10 are people who lived before autism was formally diagnosed, but who are thought to have had autism based on their habits, social life, and other characteristics. Other than that, these famous people with autism are listed in no particular order.
Modern-Day Successful People With Autism
Though it has never been explicitly stated that three-time Oscar winner Woody Allen is on the autism spectrum, both Allen himself and various experts seem to agree that it is likely the case. The writer, director, actor, and musician is well known for his quirky ways, and he is certainly among the more well-known autistic actors. As Allen has stated, “I am a neurotic in a more benign way. I mean, I have a lot of neurotic habits. I don’t like to go into elevators, I don’t go through tunnels, I like the drain in the shower to be in the corner and not in the middle.”
As a child, comedy legend Dan Aykroyd was expelled from two different schools before anyone realized that he had mild Asperger’s syndrome. Since his diagnosis, Aykroyd has been vocal and honest about his experiences on the autism spectrum; he is one of the most well-known autistic actors. According to the Oscar-nominated actor and writer, Asperger’s even helped Aykroyd develop his famous Ghostbusters character.
Marty Balin is best known as the founder of Jefferson Airplane, a psychedelic rock band that was popular in the 1960s. After struggling as a child, Balin was diagnosed with mild autism. Though he is mostly out of the spotlight now, Balin remains an advocate for those on the autism spectrum. He even recorded a song for a short film about children on the autism spectrum. He is one of the most famous celebrities with autism.
You may recognize Susan Boyle as the shy, but charming, Scottish woman who wowed on Britain’s Got Talent. After all, she went on to sell 14 million albums! However, perhaps you didn’t realize that Boyle has been officially diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome — a diagnosis that came as a “relief,” according to Boyle. Though Boyle is still learning about her Asperger’s and how being on the autism spectrum affects her life, she knows she is happiest when she is singing. She is one of the most famous people with Asperger’s syndrome.
Is Tim Burton — the beloved director behind such films as Beetlejuice, Alice in Wonderland, Edward Scissorhands, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, to name but a few — autistic? Though Burton has neither confirmed nor denied his place on the autism spectrum, his former long-time partner, Helena Bonham Carter, seems to think autism makes perfect sense, and she places Tim Burton among celebrities with autism. According to Carter, she experienced an “a-ha moment” while researching an autistic character for a film. “Autistic people have application and dedication. You can say something to Tim when he’s working and he doesn’t hear you. But that quality also makes him a fantastic father, he has an amazing sense of humor and imagination. He sees things other people won’t see.”
In addition to being on the autism spectrum, Tony DeBlois is blind — the result of receiving too much oxygen after being born prematurely. DeBlois began playing the piano at age two, and it quickly became apparent that he was not an average toddler. He excels at music, and as an adult, he plays 20 different musical instruments. He is also capable of performing more than 8,000 pieces by memory! Today, BeBlois travels the world performing in concerts and sharing his gifts with people of all nationalities.
Though it hasn’t been confirmed, autism experts seem to agree that there is a real possibility that Bill Gates is on the autism spectrum. They cite things like Gates’s habit of rocking while he concentrates, his short and monotone speech patterns, and the way in which he tends to avoid eye contact. Because these are all common characteristics of those on the autism spectrum, it seems very likely that the tech billionaire is in fact autistic.
Those who have taken the time to learn about autism are sure to know the name Temple Grandin. Grandin, a professor at Colorado State University and a prolific author, did not begin speaking until she was nearly four years old. When she was diagnosed with autism as a child, it was recommended she be institutionalized. Fortunately, her parents thought otherwise. Since her diagnosis, Grandin has become a leading force in the animal sciences, has produced an award-winning biopic about her life, and was even named as one of TIME Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People.”
Daryl Hannah was a massive star during the the late 1980s, starring in such Hollywood films as Blade Runner, Wall Street, Splash, and Steel Magnolias, to name but a few. Still, according to Hannah, her successful career practically ended when she was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. Life can be hard for famous people with Asperger’s syndrome, as there are many social obligations they are expected to fulfill. Said Hannah, “I never went on talk shows, never went to premieres. Going to the Academy Awards was so painful for me. I’d almost faint just walking down the red carpet. I was so socially awkward and uncomfortable that I eventually got blacklisted.”
Comedy fans will recognize Dan Harmon as the writer and creator of the hit show Community. While researching Asperger’s syndrome for a character he was creating, Harmon realized that much of what he was learning described him to a T. As he told Wired Magazine, “I started looking up these symptoms, just to know what they are. And the more I looked them up, the more familiar they started to seem. Then I started taking these internet tests.” Dan Harmon is among the most famous people with Asperger’s syndrome.
Sir Anthony Hopkins
On a list of the greatest living actors, Sir Anthony Hopkins would almost certainly be included; he is also included in our list of famous autistic people. The actor, who won an Oscar for portraying Hannibal Lector in The Silence of the Lambs, has been diagnosed with high-functioning Asperger’s syndrome (though Hopkins hasn’t said at what point in his life he received the diagnosis). When talking about the way being on the autism spectrum affects him, Hopkins says, “I don’t go to parties, I don’t have many friends, but I do like people.”
Heather Kuzmich was a contestant on Cycle 9 of America’s Next Top Model, and remains one of the biggest fan favorites of all time. At age 15, Kuzmich was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, and she spent much of her teenage years struggling to communicate and form friendships. Though she finished fifth on the show, Kuzmich has found great success since as a model and, currently, as a student of video game design.
Whether as the wife of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain or the lead singer of the punk band Hole, Courtney Love has enjoyed a long career in the spotlight. In a popular biography about Love, it was revealed that the grunge singer has a mild form of autism. According to Love, she struggles with social skills, and she would practice social cues and conversation by visiting gay clubs with close friends.
Hawaii native Clay Marzo is unique among famous people with autism because of his success in the sports world. Marzo was diagnosed with autism as a child. This apparently made little difference to either Clay or his parents. Said Clay’s mother, “I will not give my son a label: watch him, and you will see his raw intelligence.” Marzo’s natural ability soon became apparent. Shortly after winning the Hawaii State 200m Freestyle in swimming at age 10, Marzo decided to focus solely on his main passion: surfing. Marzo won so many surfing competitions as a teenager, the documentary Just Add Water was produced about him. At age 15, he received two Perfect 10s during a National Scholastic Surfing Association — an unprecedented accomplishment. Now an adult, Marzo continues his career as a successful competitive surfer.
John Elder Robison
When bestselling author John Elder Robison was a child, few had ever heard of Asperger’s syndrome. As a kid, Robison was often punished for “misbehaving” and “laziness.” It wasn’t until adulthood that a doctor suggested to him that he might have Asperger’s. “The knowledge,” said Robison, “changed my life forever. It took some time, and a lot of hard work, but the knowledge of how and why I am different transformed my life.” In 2007, Robison published his heartfelt memoir, Look Me in the Eye, and the book instantly became a massive bestseller. Today, Robison continues to write about his experiences with Asperger’s syndrome, while remaining a tireless advocate for those on the autism spectrum.
Jerry Seinfeld has stated on more than one occasion that he believes himself to be autistic. Though no medical professional has ever officially diagnosed him, Seinfeld has defended his theory by citing various childhood challenges and his tendency to think literally. While Seinfeld may consider himself to have Asperger’s syndrome, others disagree. Indeed, the comedian’s revelation has been extremely controversial, with many feeling that his self-diagnosis has served to make light of an actual issue.
Dr. Vernon Smith
Dr. Vernon Smith, a professor of economics at Chapman University, practically invented the field of experimental economics — an achievement for which he won the Nobel Prize in 2002. Dr. Smith is incredibly open and honest about having Asperger’s syndrome, but he actually credits his autism for his professional success. As he told MSNBC, “I don’t feel any social pressure to do things the way other people are doing them, professionally. And so I have been more open to different ways of looking at a lot of the problems in economics.”
You may not know the name Satoshi Tajiri, but we’re willing to bet you would recognize Pokémon, Tajiri’s most famous creation. Satoshi Tajiri has stated that he is on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum. He has confirmed on more than one occasion that he has Asperger’s syndrome. But, as a general rule, Tajiri chooses not to talk about his diagnosis in public. Rather, he prefers that his many accomplishments speak for themselves.
Alexis Wineman made history as the first Miss America contestant with autism. The former Miss Montana has been diagnosed with pervasive development disorder, a less common disorder that can be found on the autism spectrum, as a child. Despite the social pressures that come with competing in pageantry, Wineman held her own, and she has received the America’s Choice Award.
Adam Young (Owl City)
Adam Young, the singer and songwriter behind Owl City, is a successful musician with Asperger’s syndrome. According to Young, he struggles greatly with insomnia. In fact, insomnia is the topic of “Fireflies,” one of his most famous songs. He is also an extreme introvert, and he admits to having spent most of his high-school years alone and without friends.
Famous Autistic People in History
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)
Thomas Jefferson is known as one of the founding fathers of America, the author of the Declaration of Independence, and the third President of the United States. He was also an author, musician, botanist, architect, and philospher. According to advancingmilestones.com, he had difficulty relating to others socially and was unusually sensitive to loud noises, as well as disliking public speaking. Because of these things, authors such as Norm Ledgin believe that Jefferson may have had some form of autism or Asperger’s syndrome.
Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999)
According to 366daysofautism.wordpress.com, director Stanley Kubrik is thought by some to have been on the autism spectrum. Those who believe that he was on the spectrum describe his inflexibility, literal thinking, narrow interests, and poor social skills. One example of an interest of his is chess. He learned to play chess as a teenager, and it showed up as a pattern in the films he directed. He is known as one of the greatest film directors of all time; he was the director of Paths of Glory, The Shining, A Clockwork Orange, Spartacus, and many other films.
Michelangelo was an architect, poet, painter, and sculptor, and he is known as one of the greatest influencers of Western art. He is known for his work on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, the statue David, the Medici tomb, and many other works of art. Some have speculated that Michelangelo was on the autism spectrum because of his narrow interests, his difficulty in showing emotion, and his eccentric behaviors. This article from webmd.com outlines the reasons why Michelangelo might have had high-functioning autism. He is among the most famous autistic people in history.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was one of the greatest composers of the Classical era, and also an incredibly gifted conductor, virtuoso pianist, organist, and violinist. His music includes symphonies, concertos, chamber music, and choral music, according to classicfm.com. He began performing and composing at a very young age. Many experts believe that he was on the autism spectrum because of his exhibition of certain traits such as repetitive movements, fixation on certain things, and poor social skills.
Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727)
Sir Isaac Newton is known for his work in astronomy, theology, mathematics, and physics; he is generally acknowledged as one of the greatest scientists who ever lived. According to ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, Isaac Newton may have been on the autism spectrum. He had difficulty with his relationships and preferred to be alone, as well as adhering to a rigidly fixed schedule. He dressed eccentrically and wrote his book Principia in such a way that it would be difficult to read for those who were not already mathematically gifted. However, it may have been his Asperger’s syndrome that allowed him to gain so much insight into the way the world works.
Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
Did Albert Einstein, the great theoretical physicist, have autism? Spectrumnews.org says that many of the world’s most well-known scientists, including Einstein, show symptoms of having Asperger’s syndrome, a disorder on the autism spectrum. These symptoms include an obssession with certain narrow topics, difficulty in communication, and poor social skills. Einstein did possess a sense of humour, rare in those with Asperger’s, but he also showed many signs of Asperger’s, leading some to conclude that he was on the autism spectrum.
Nikola Tesla (1856-1943)
Nikola Tesla was a Serbian-American physicist and engineer, according to history.com. He is known for his discoveries in electric power, from production to transmission and application. He invented the first alternating-current electricity supply system. His traits and habits have led some to state that if he were alive today, he would possibly have been diagnosed with autism; if so, he is one of the most famous autistic people in history.
William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)
William Butler Yeats was an Irish writer whose poetry, prose, and drama are known for their contribution to the modernist movement in literature. He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1923. His poems include “A Prayer for my Daughter”, “The Second Coming”, and “When You Are Old.” According to cnn.com, psychiatrist Michael Fitzgerald believes that Yeats may have had Asperger’s syndrome. The poet himself wrote that he had little talent for interpersonal relations, and he displayed the narrow obsessions that are common among those on the autism spectrum.
Charles Schulz (1922-2000)
Charles Schulz was the creator of the well-known comic strip Peanuts, featuring characters such as Charlie Brown, Snoopy the beagle, Lucy, Linus, and many others. His characters provide an insightful commentary on life, while simultaneously making people laugh. He is believed to have been on the autism spectrum, and he is among the most famous people with autism.
Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)
Emily Dickinson was a poet who lived a reclusive lifestyle and spent much of her life in the house where she was born. She had very set habits, such as wearing the color white. She wrote a great deal of poetry, but many of her poems were not found until after she died. Her poems include “Because I could not stop for Death”, “I’m Nobody! Who are you?”, and “Hope is the thing with feathers”. Because of her reclusive lifestyle and unusual habits, some of her biographers believe that she was on the autism spectrum.
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