Autism is a brain development disorder characterized by a number of symptoms differing in severity based on the individual. Since autism was not added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) until the 1980s, autism itself has been around a lot longer. Now that experts know a lot more about autism and how it impacts people, it is possible to look at historical figures and speculate whether or not they may have been on the autism spectrum. Knowing that famous historical figures may have had autism or Asperger’s may help individuals draw a connection to them in coping with their diagnoses.
Researchers believe that Einstein showed signs of Asperger’s from early childhood. When he was a child, he was a loner and repeated sentences, often obsessively, which are traits of Asperger’s, a form of autism. As an adult, Einstein was often obsessive about his work, studying one topic to the exclusion of everything else. He also struggled with social interactions and small talk, and of the few friends he had, was often bad-tempered toward them.
Sir Isaac Newton
Like Einstein, Sir Isaac Newton was not very communicative, and struggled with small talk and ordinary daily conversation. He was socially inept, and did not have many friends. Along with this, Newton often became obsessively fixated with topics, even forgetting to eat when he was working. In addition, Newton stuck closely to his routines. When he was scheduled to give lectures, even if no one showed up, he gave the lectures anyway.
Thomas Jefferson, author the Declaration of Independence and third president of the United States, was unable to relate to others on a social level, and was extremely shy in social settings. He was also struggled with public speaking and was highly sensitive to loud noises. Jefferson also had an almost obsessive fascination with remodeling his home. He also had some eccentricities in his behaviors, such as wearing slippers to important business meetings.
Michelangelo also exhibited traits of autism. He, too, was obsessive about his work. However, he was also obsessive about his routine. If his creative routine were to be interrupted, Michelangelo became agitated and frustrated, as if unable to continue. Michelangelo also had few friends, and was often emotionally distant from them. He did not have effective communication or social skills.
Andy Warhol was known for being eccentric, and many of his behaviors could be viewed as manifestations of autism. He greatly valued repetition, which can be seen in his screen-printing art pieces. In addition, he was not a social person, and when he did converse, it was minimally. He was also highly focused on detail to the point of obsession.
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While it is impossible to say definitively whether or not these historical figures had autism or Asperger’s, researchers can point to specific behaviors and tendencies that suggest they did. This is an important distinction. It shows that autism is not a new condition, even though it is only recently included in the DSM. Knowing that people throughout history have been incredibly successful, even with autism, can help others understand how they can use their gifts to be successful, too.