Speculated to have been autistic

People speculated to have been autistic

Famous historical people have been speculated to have been autistic by journalists, academics and autism professionals. Such speculation is controversial and little of it is undisputed. For example, several autism researchers speculate that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had autism and other diagnoses, while other researchers say there is not sufficient evidence to draw conclusions that he had any diagnoses.

Controversial speculation

Speculative claims that historical figues displayed behaviors associated with autism spectrum disorders include people who died before the work done by Hans Asperger and Leo Kanner in classifying autism spectrum conditions was completed. Autism has only been recognized since the 1940s, so many earlier cases may have gone undiagnosed. Speculation about their diagnoses is based on reported behaviors rather than any clinical observation of the individual. Fred Volkmar, a psychiatrist and autism expert at the Yale Child Study Center says, "There is unfortunately a sort of cottage industry of finding that everyone has Asperger's."

Historical figures


Michael Fitzgerald, of the Department of Child Psychiatry at Trinity College, Dublin, has speculated about historical figures with autism in numerous journal papers and at least three books: The Genesis of Artistic Creativity: Asperger's Syndrome and the Arts, Unstoppable Brilliance: Irish Geniuses and Asperger's Syndrome and Autism and Creativity, Is there a link between autism in men and exceptional ability?

Fitzgerald speculated the following were autistic in The Genesis of Artistic Creativity:

Unstoppable Brilliance discusses Daisy Bates, Samuel Beckett, Robert Boyle, Eamon de Valera, Robert Emmet, William Rowan Hamilton, James Joyce, Padraig Pearse and W.B. Yeats.

Autism and Creativity says the following may have been autistic: Lewis Carroll, Eamon de Valera, Sir Keith Joseph, Ramanujan, Ludwig Wittgenstein and W.B. Yeats.


Person Speculated by
Hans Christian Andersen – author Michael Fitzgerald
Béla Bartók – 20th century Hungarian composer Ioan James; Oliver Sacks says the evidence seems "very thin at best".
Hugh Blair of Borgue – 18th century Scottish landowner thought mentally incompetent, now studied as case history of autism. Rab Houston and Uta Frith
Lewis Carroll – writer, logician Michael Fitzgerald
Henry Cavendish – 18th century British scientist. He was unusually reclusive, literal minded, had trouble relating to people, had trouble adapting to people, difficulties looking straight at people, drawn to patterns, etc. Oliver Sacks, and Ione James; Fred Volkmar of Yale Study Child Center is skeptical.
Charles XII of Sweden – speculated to have had Asperger syndrome Swedish researchers, Gillberg and Lagerkvist
Jeffrey Dahmerserial killer Silva, et al
Charles Darwin – naturalist, associated with the theory of evolution by natural selection Michael Fitzgerald
Éamon de Valera – Irish revolutionary and politician Michael Fitzgerald
Paul Dirac – British mathematician and physicist. He was Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, 1933–1963 and a Fellow of St John's College. Awarded the 1933 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the mathematical foundations of Quantum Mechanics. Ione James
Albert Einstein – physicist See analysis below
Janet Frame – New Zealand author Sarah Abrahamson; this suggestion has been the subject of some controversy.
Glenn Gould – Canadian pianist and noted Bach interpreter. He liked routine to the point he used the same seat until it was worn through. He also disliked social functions to the point that in later life he relied on the telephone or letters for virtually all communication. He had an aversion to being touched, had a different sense of hot or cold than most, and would rock back and forth while playing music. He is speculated to have had Asperger syndrome. Michael Fitzgerald, Ioan James, Tony Attwood, and NPR
Adolf Hitler – German politician, dictator Michael Fitzgerald
Thomas Jefferson – US President Norm Ledgin Tony Attwood, and Ioan James
Keith Joseph – father of Thatcherism Michael Fitzgerald
James Joyce – author of Ulysses Michael Fitzgerald and Antionette Walker
Ted Kaczynski – Unabomber Silva, et al
MichelangeloItalian Renaissance artist, based on his inability to form long-term attachments and certain other characteristics Arshad and Fitzgerald; Ioan James also discussed Michelangelo's autistic traits.
Wolfgang Mozart – composer Tony Attwood and Michael Fitzgerald; others disagree that there is sufficient evidence to indicate any diagnoses for Mozart.
Isaac Newton See analysis below
Moe Norman – Canadian golfer USA Today
George Orwell – writer speculated to have had Asperger Syndrome. His troubled life went along with social interaction problems. Towards the end of his life he wrote bitter polemic on his preparatory boarding school Such, Such Were the Joys which displays many of the characteristics of Asperger's and interpersonal relationships. Orwell knew this intensely personal account was libellous and biographers have found it a challenge to explain its conflict with the truth, but Orwell still felt it important to publish this account eventually. Michael Fitzgerald
Enoch Powell – British politician Michael Fitzgerald
Srinivasa Ramanujan – mathematician Ioan James and Michael Fitzgerald
Charles Richterseismologist, creator of the eponymous scale of earthquake magnitude Susan Hough in her biography of Richter
Erik Satie – composer Ioan James and Michael Fitzgerald
Jonathan Swift – author Ioan James and Michael Fitzgerald
Alan Turing – pioneer of computer sciences. He seemed to be a math savant and his lifestyle has many autism traits about it. Tony Attwood and Ioan James
Michael Ventris – English architect who deciphered Linear B Simon Baron-Cohen
Andy Warhol – American artist Michael Fitzgerald and Ioan James
Blind Tom Wiggins – autistic savant Oliver Sacks
Ludwig Wittgenstein – Austrian philosopher Michael Fitzgerald Tony Attwood, and Ioan James; Oliver Sacks says the evidence seems \"very thin at best\".
W. B. Yeats – poet and dramatist Michael Fitzgerald

Einstein and Newton

Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton may have had Asperger syndrome, but a definitive diagnosis is impossible as both scientists died before this condition came to be known. Albert Einstein's brain has been preserved. As physical features of the brain connected with autism become better known it may become possible to tell whether Einstein had those features.

Case for autism

Ioan James, and Michael Fitzgerald believe that Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton had personalities consistent with Asperger syndrome; Tony Attwood has also named Einstein as a likely case of mild autism. Asperger's involves difficulties with social skills and preoccupation with complex subjects like music, which Einstein had. Fitzgerald says society should accept and tolerate eccentrics as they frequently have positive contributions to make.

Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton both experienced intense intellectual interests in specific limited areas. Both scientists had trouble reacting appropriately in social situations and had difficulty communicating. Both scientists sometimes became so involved with their work that they did not eat. Newton spoke little and was frequently lukewarm or bad-tempered with the few friends he had. If no one attended his lecture he still lectured to an empty room. When he was 50, Newton suffered a nervous breakdown involving depression and paranoia. After Newton's death however, his body was found to contain massive amounts of mercury, probably from his alchemical pursuits, which could have accounted for his eccentricity in later life.

People claim that Albert Einstein was a loner as a child, was a late speaker, starting only at two to three years old, and repeated sentences obsessively up to the age of seven. As an adult his lectures were confusing. He needed his wives to act as parents when he was an adult—factors people claim make him "obviously" (or at least stereotypically) autistic. He was also the stereotypical "absent-minded professor"; he was often forgetful of everyday items, such as keys, and would focus so intently on solving physics problems that he would often become oblivious to his surroundings. In his later years, his appearance inadvertently created (or reflected) another stereotype of scientists in the process: the researcher with unruly white hair.

Finally, in the words of Albert Einstein:

My passionate sense of social justice and social responsibility has always contrasted oddly with my pronounced lack of need for direct contact with other human beings and human communities. I am truly a lone traveler and have never belonged to my country, my home, my friends, or even my immediate family, with my whole heart; in the face of all these ties, I have never lost a sense of distance and a need for solitude...

Case against autism

Oliver Sacks says that claims that Einstein or Newton had autism "seem very thin at best". Glen Elliott, a psychiatrist at the University of California at San Francisco, is unconvinced that either scientist had Asperger syndrome. "One can imagine geniuses who are socially inept and yet not remotely autistic. Impatience with the intellectual slowness of others, narcissism and passion for one's mission in life might combine to make such an individuals isolative and difficult." Elliott added that Einstein had a good sense of humor, a trait that is believed uncommon in people with severe Asperger syndrome.


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