Many individuals with autism are talented and make unique contributions to the world.
There are many famous people throughout history that have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The diagnoses of ASD among celebrities have been recorded from public statements or personal reports, some of which may have surfaced following an individual’s death. The fact that many famous public figures and celebrities have had to cope with ASD proves that it can affect anyone – regardless of social status, financial earnings, or innate talents.
Autism is considered a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by severe impairment in social skills. Common symptoms of autism include: communication problems, social withdrawal, obsessive interests, and repetitive behaviours. The diagnoses of autism occur along a “spectrum” – meaning symptomatic severity is subject to significant individual variation.
That said, it is important to realize that just because an individual has been diagnosed with ASD does not mean that they’re automatically subject to lifelong, permanent helplessness. Many famous people have channelled their talents and worked hard to achieve success in spite of their disorder. If you or your child has ASD, it may be helpful to realize that you are not alone in your diagnosis – even famous people struggle with it.
Famous People with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Below is a list of famous people and celebrities that have been diagnosed specifically with ASD. Understand that some of these celebrities are considered to be “high functioning” in that they exhibit enhanced cognitive performance (and usually have IQs over 70), while others are “lower functioning” in that they exhibit greater cognitive impairment. Also understand that certain individuals are considered autistic savants in that they are prodigious in one niche (art, music, mathematics, memorization, etc.).
- Albert Einstein:
One of the most gifted minds in our history, Einstein has often been rumoured to have had ASD. BBC News reported that researchers at Cambridge and Oxford universities believe that the scientist displayed signs of Asperger’s Syndrome.
- Caiseal Mor:
This is a renowned Australian author and musician. He is famous for his fantasy novels and known for his musical recordings. He has recorded over 12 albums thus far and has more in the works. Mor was diagnosed with ASD when he was a child, and had kept his diagnosis a secret from the general public until he published his autobiography in 2007 entitled “A Blessing and a Curse; Autism and Me.”
- Christopher Knowles:
This is an American poet and painter from New York City. It is thought that he had been diagnosed as having mild brain damage and some speculate that he had autism spectrum disorder (though this hasn’t been confirmed). His work was discovered by Robert Wilson, who was initially fascinated with his repetitive and pattern rhythms of poetry.
- Donna Williams:
This is a well-known Australian author who is also a talented singer, songwriter, screenwriter, and sculptor. When she was just 2 years of age, others thought she was “psychotic” and was initially thought to be deaf. Later she was properly diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and has since attempted to correct many neurophysiological abnormalities associated with the condition. She has published 4 autobiographies including: “Nobody Nowhere” (1992), “Somebody Somewhere” (1994), “Like Colour to the Blind” (1998), and “Everyday Heaven” (2004).
- Jim Sinclair:
This is an autism rights activist who helped form the organization Autism Network International (ANI) in 1992. Due to his autism spectrum disorder, it was reported that Sinclair was unable to verbally communicate until age 12. By the late 1990s, Sinclair had managed to get a college degree and enrol in graduate school at Syracuse University for rehabilitation counselling. He has written the popular essay “Don’t Mourn for Us,” which expresses his thoughts and feelings against the idea of “curing” autism. Sinclair has been supportive of organizing international autistic speakers and has collaborated with Donna Williams, another famous person with autism.
- Leslie Lemke:
Leslie Lemke was an autistic savant who was best known for his musical talent. He was born prematurely in 1952, and endured a variety of health issues including: brain damage, cerebral palsy, and glaucoma. Following birth, his eyes were completely removed and he was rendered fully blind. Due to his numerous health issues, he was put up for adoption and was taken in by May Lemke when he was 6 months old. Although he was developmentally challenged, he was highly interested in music – particularly playing the piano. By age 16, he had learned to play a variety of musical genres on his piano and would eventually attract large crowds in his home state of Wisconsin for concerts. He has been featured on a variety of TV shows including 60 Minutes, CBS Evening News, CBC’s Man Alive, and ABC’s “The Woman Who Willed a Miracle.”
- Stephen Wiltshire:
This is an architectural artist from Britain known for his ability to compose landscape pictures from memory after just a single sighting. As a child, Wiltshire was considered mute, and by age 3, he had been diagnosed with autism. By age 5, he had been sent to Queens mill School where he took interest in art, particularly drawing. Although he didn’t learn to verbally communicate until age 9, he was incentivized to speak by his art teachers who would take away his supplies until he uttered words. He would eventually demonstrate that he could draw an entire city landscape from memory – following just a single viewing. For example, he was able to draw an entire four square mile picture of London after just one aerial sighting via a helicopter ride and did the same of New York City (also following a helicopter ride).
- Temple Grandin:
This is an American professor of animal science at Colorado State University. She has written a best-selling book, is an autism activist, and is considered a leading consultant for businesses in the livestock industry. She has invented a device called the “hug box”, which is aimed to increase calmness among those with autism spectrum who feel overwhelmed. In childhood, Temple was thought to have brain damage and she wasn’t able to verbally communicate until age 4.
- Thristan Mendoza:
This is an individual considered an autistic savant in that he is highly skilled at playing the marimba. He was born in the Philippines, diagnosed with autism at age 2, and would go to school at the “Philippine Montessori Centre.” During his schooling, he took a liking to music, particularly playing the marimba. He is yet another example of someone with an autism diagnosis who managed to follow his passion and develop a unique genius-level skill.
- Tito Mukhopadhyay:
This is an Indian author, poet, and philosopher who was diagnosed with a severe form of low functioning autism from a young age. His autism was in fact so severe that he was rendered incapable of verbal communication. Despite the fact that he lacks the ability to verbally communicate, he has honed his ability to convey thoughts in the form of writing.
- Todd Hodgetts:
This is an Australian athlete that managed to win a gold medal at the 2012 Paralympics in London for the shot put. Prior to his gold medal at the Paralympics, he made the Australian national team in 2006, won a 2008 Australian shot put championship, won a 2009 Athletics South flagship interclub competition, and won the 2012 Australian Athletics Championships where he set a world record.
- Tony DeBlois:
Not only does he have autism spectrum disorder, but he’s also legally blind. When Tony DeBlois was born, he was considered a premature baby and weighed less than a kilogram. As a result, he was pumped with oxygen, but the oxygen therapy resulted in permanent visual blindness within 2 days after his birth. Although he was diagnosed with autism and is completely blind, he was highly skilled in music.