Famous People with Autism
If you think having autism is a curse, think again.
Here are ten extraordinary individuals with autism throughout history who changed the world with their unique gifts and abilities.
1475 to 1564, Renaissance artist – Painter, Poet, and Sculptor
People who have been to Vatican City could not help but appreciate the magnificent frescoes painted on the wall and ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Only one name comes to mind whenever it’s mentioned, Michelangelo. He’s the artist behind the magnificent works of art that’s regarded as one of the most famous paintings in existence.
Other than his paintings found on the Sistine Chapel, his other famous works are David and The Pieta. He produced hundreds more throughout his lifetime. Michelangelo is one of the leading figures of the Renaissance period, along with Leonardo Da Vinci.
One of the most interesting tidbits about this man is that he’s a high-functioning autistic.
His reclusive nature, poor social skills, adherence to routines, interested only at his work, and sudden mood changes are all clear indications of the autism spectrum disorder.
- Sir Isaac Newton
1643 to 1727, Astronomer, Author, Mathematician, Physicist, and Theologian
He found the answer as to why things that go up must come down. Sir Isaac Newton discovered the earth’s gravitational pull. The moment came when he watched an apple fall to the ground. On other accounts, they say it hit his head.
His laws of motion and gravitation continue to be one of the pillars of modern physics. He continues to inspire and remains influential among the later generation of scientists
Sir Isaac Newton is another example of a high-functioning autistic. He was born prematurely, uncomfortable in conversations and loves to isolate himself as much as possible. Because of his tendencies, he only has a few friends and relies on his daily routines for structure. He can go on working for days without sleeping or eating.
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
1756 to 1791, Classical Composer
This world-famous musician is overly sensitive to loud noises, had a short attention span, and fond of making facial expressions. He was diagnosed with Tourette syndrome. Despite being on the spectrum, his music has stood the test of time. It continues to endure and remain popular even if it’s been 200 years and counting after his death.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was a child prodigy. He began composing music when he was around four or five years old. By that age, he already knew how to play the violin and the piano.
Pregnant mothers, let their children listen to his music while sleeping hoping that they’ll turn out to be geniuses.
It’s called the Mozart effect theory that was developed by Dr. Gordon Shaw in the 1990’s. It suggests that letting young children listen to classical music or Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major increases brain capacity that helps them solve math or science problems.
- Charles Darwin
1809 to 1882, Naturalist, Geologist, and Biologist
Does the theory of evolution sound familiar to you? It’s the theory that suggests humans descended from the apes. He also believed that for a species to evolve, it has to be a battle for survival. Only the strongest or the fittest will come out on top to propagate their genes.
That theory came from the mind of an autistic man diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. That man’s name is Charles Darwin. He’s a visual thinker whose passion for natural history, science, and collecting things led him to come up with that theory after years of research.
He neglected his medical education to become a doctor for he finds it dull and considers surgery to be distressing.
He chose to pursue what he was passionate about and went on to join a survey voyage towards South America on board the HMS Beagle. He relished his time on that expedition because he was collecting, investigating, and studying things that fascinated him the most; matters related to natural science.
He likes hanging out with persons who share the same interests and loves asking questions until he gets satisfied with the answers.
When he’s working, he prefers to be alone and avoids talking and instead, prefers writing letters as the means of communication. He also works long hours and often neglects his physical needs just to finish what he has started.
Most of all, he came up with a decision about getting married by listing down the advantages and disadvantages.
- Nikola Tesla
1856 to 1943, Inventor, Electrical and Mechanical Engineer, Physicist, and Futurist
Here’s another individual who’s extremely sensitive to light and sounds, prefers to be alone, had multiple phobias, and mostly obsessed with the number three.
Nikola Tesla is gifted with an eidetic or photographic memory. It enabled him to envision things in realistic detail and precision. He would build his projects without relying on drawings but instead, on his mind for reference.
Because of his photographic memory, he was also a polyglot. He can speak in eight languages fluently like Italian, Latin, German, English, French, Hungarian, Czech, and Serbo-Croatian.
For his unusual beliefs, he considers women to be superior to men in every imaginable way. Never got married because of his idea that chastity helps him become better at what he does.
He also has unusual sleeping patterns. Can work long periods without rest; at one time, he worked 84 hours straight. Claims to sleep no more than two hours per night and dozes off from time to time during the day to "recharge" himself.
He was very meticulous in his grooming and clothing for he thinks it’s necessary to maintain and further his business relationships. Subscribes to a daily routine like the exact time to eat his dinner and physical exercise each day.
Sometimes, he can be harsh and rude at times especially against overweight people.
- Albert Einstein
1879 to 1955, Scientist and Mathematician
The name, Einstein, is synonymous with the word genius. It’s a tribute to honor his intellectual achievements. His Theory of Relativity suggests that time travel is possible and his most famous equation E=mc² paved the way for the creation of the atomic bomb.
When he was a child, he had severe speech delays. He also tends to repeat sentences to himself or what is known as echolalia.
He loved music and excelled in math and science subjects in school and was leaps and bounds more advanced than his peers. So advanced, that he taught himself calculus by the age of 12 and mastered integral and differential calculus two years later. In school, his teachers often complained about the difficult questions he asked during class.
As an adult, he observed a routine and asked his wife to comply especially in serving his meals at the exact times thrice a day. He also loved spending time alone, often turning down invitations for him to speak or give a lecture to an audience.
- Bobby Fischer
1943 to 2008, Chess Grandmaster (GM)
Bobby Fischer was exposed to the game of chess when he was just six years old.
He learned how to play it based on the instructions that came with the set bought by his mother. Soon after that, he spent too much time alone playing and studying chess.
He then met Carmine Nigro when he played an exhibition match against former Scottish champion Master Max Pavey in 1951. Carmine then went on to teach Bobby about the game that influenced him to continue playing chess. Their relationship went on for about five years until Carmine moved away in 1956.
He later drops out of school just to play chess. Bobby Fischer was a young chess prodigy who gained recognition after winning the “Game of the Century” against International Master Donald Byrne on October 17, 1956. He was only 13 years old at that time and was playing against a more experienced opponent who was twice his age. His love for the game became more intense that he taught himself foreign languages just so he can read international news articles about chess.
People who interacted with Bobby described him as an eccentric, unpredictable, or bizarre person. He even makes sarcastic or insulting comments without regards for other people’s feelings.
Despite his odd behavior or personality, he made significant contributions that revolutionized the way chess is played today.
He introduced a chess timing system in the 1990s that’s now standard practice in international tournaments. Then there's a new variant of chess called Fischerandom or “Chess960" that tests the players understanding of the game.
Bobby Fischer showed the symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome, Paranoid Schizophrenia, or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, but was never diagnosed. He had poor social skills but had an intense focus for chess. He needs a structured environment to cope up.
For all his contributions and achievements, he’s considered by many as the greatest chess player of all time.
- Dr. Temple Grandin
1947 to present, Animal Scientist, Consultant, and Spokesperson for Autism
She’s a prominent author and speaker for animal behavior and autism. She was diagnosed with autism much later in life, at the age of 40.
As a child, she could not talk until she was around three and a half years old. Good thing, her parents sought early medical intervention for they were adamant about having her institutionalized. When she was in middle and high school, she was bullied and ridiculed as a tape recorder for her repetitive speech.
Despite the difficulties she had as a teenager, she was fortunate to meet William Carlock. He was her science teacher at Hampshire Country School and mentor. William gave her the idea about building her squeeze machine and assisted her until it became a reality at the age of 18. Her squeeze machine helps autistic persons or those with sensory disorders calm down through deep pressure touch stimulation.
Dr. Temple Grandin shares her views from her personal experiences. Because of her condition, she’s become a leading advocate for autism. She possesses an excellent visual memory and uses it to think in pictures. She can recall even the smallest details at will.
Aside from that, she prefers thrillers, documentaries, and science fiction over drama and romantic films.
- Steve Jobs
1955 to 2011, Former CEO of Apple Inc.
He’s the man responsible for the most innovative and revolutionary products of the 21st century like the iPod, iPad and most of all, the iPhone
As a boss, he is popularly known for being rude or lack of empathy when dealing with others. He often drives his team of engineers crazy with his obsession for perfection and outside the box way of thinking. The product they’re working on must meet his standards or gain his approval. His employees must have the same level of dedication he has or else, they will have a hard time fitting in or keeping their jobs.
Despite being a horrible boss, he single-handedly revived Apple Inc. until it became the richest and most popular company in the world.
Steve Jobs was described as a loner who didn’t mind going against the norm even if people find him odd. He chooses who he wants to be friends with like neighbors who were engineers rather than kids his age.
He never fit in in a traditional classroom and was only interested in advanced lessons.
He was fascinated with electronics, engineering, the arts, and literature but hated sports.
- Satoshi Tajiri
1965 to present, Creator of Nintendo’s Pokémon
Satoshi Tajiri was obsessed with collecting bugs as a child and with playing video games as a teenager. He cut classes and flunked high school so that he can focus on the things that fascinated him. During this time, his parents thought he was being delinquent or lazy for he did not get along with his teachers and had difficulty focusing on his studies.
Since he was so immersed playing arcade games, the owner of the establishment where he spends most of his time playing decided to give him his own arcade as a token of appreciation. It further encouraged him to learn more about his passion for video games. He took apart his video game console to understand how it worked.
He then started writing a fan magazine or fanzine to share his knowledge and love for video games. Eventually, he met Ken Sugimori, a neurotypical child his age, who shared the same passion for playing video games. Ken was also a gifted artist when it comes to drawing. The two bonded well and their efforts soon led them to meet Shigeru Miyamoto, the designer of classics such as Donkey Kong and The Super Mario Brothers.
It was only later on that Satoshi was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. A form of autism with extraordinary learning abilities or also known as high-functioning autism.
Satoshi’s love for collecting insects and playing video games became a reality through Pokemon. He created a game that shared his passion for collecting things and shared it with the whole world.
The five different types of autism
- Autistic Disorder or what is known as “Classic Autism.”
Signs are seen at a young age and continue to show as they grow up
- Delayed development of language or speech
- Suffers from intellectual disability and sensory processing disorder.
- Not good at social interactions because they can’t understand body language, facial expressions, the tone of voice used, and the meaning of idioms.
- Has unusual interest and behavior. They avoid eye contact or does not respond or acknowledge when they’re being called. No change in pitch when talking, and shows repetitive behavior.
- Those with average or above-average intelligence are considered high-functioning.
- Might present with other problems such as Fragile X syndrome or epilepsy.
- Asperger’s Syndrome
Exhibits the milder symptoms of the autistic disorder. They have natural language and intellectual development but suffers from impaired social skills because of a lack of understanding of body language. Usually diagnosed between the age of five to nine and possibly even later.
Individuals with Asperger’s syndrome have odd speech patterns, obsessive routines, limited facial expressions and interests, hypersensitive to specific stimuli, and delays in motor skills development.
- Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) - “Atypical Autism"
Possesses most of the criteria of the Autistic disorder and Asperger syndrome, but not all.
- Delayed speech and social development.
- Finds it difficult to use their imagination.
- Seen in toddlers who rarely talk and walk.
- They have trouble understanding how the world around them works.
- Rett Syndrome
Happens mostly in girls whose symptoms tend to show up when they're six months old and continues to progress as they grow older. The severity of the symptoms varies for every child but follows a typical pattern of physical and mental degeneration.
The symptoms can progress to sleeping problems, breathing difficulties, having a strange gait, teeth grinding, or seizures. The child loses abilities acquired between the ages of one and four such as speaking or hand skills.
By the time they’re between the age of four to ten, they begin to decline physically.
- Childhood Disintegrative Disorder
It’s associated with seizures and other medical issues of the brain. They will exhibit normal development but only up to two years.
After that, they will begin to change and decline gradually in a matter of months. They’ll lose all social self-help skills they have learned. Shows sudden change in behavior and followed by loss of bowel/bladder control and repetitive behavior.