Famous Autistic People – Can We Learn From Their Life Stories?

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When we get a diagnosis of autism we don’t initially think about the famous autistic people that are functioning quite well in our world. But we can learn allot from them. In fact, understanding autism and the ‘spectrum’ of conditions is one other way we can proactively advocate for our own dear ‘special’ people. We are talking about people, and our young people will grow up. We want them to grow up into a world in which they can safely navigate and manage life’s challenges. And examples we can turn to can offer insight.

Controversy!  Who IS and Who IS NOT

Now from my research there appears to be some controversy over folks like Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, and Thomas Jefferson being autistic, among others.  As many of you reading this already know, autism presents differently in every single person.  Where one child will have repetitive stimming behaviors, another may cover their ears and run from load noises, and others will have difficulty with a myriad of sensory stimuli and find touching and holding and hugging alarming.  So it may be that the evidence is not conclusive enough regarding these three famous individuals.

There are some really good examples, though, so let’s name just a few of these famous folks.  Some may surprise you.  I am confident that seeing their lives and reflecting on their successes will open entirely new perspectives on what your child is experiencing and potentially facing in life.  It may even be very encouraging to you and possibly affect what choices and boundries you set for your child. Two of the examples I am sharing have made tremendous progress in the face of what I feel have sometimes been totally unacceptable social treatment of them.  One example is alarming and may cause you to be offended.  Keep in mind that autistic characteristics and personal experience can be the panic they feel when they are overwhelmed, or the constant buzzing of noise or the prickly feeling in their skin all of the time, to name just a few.  It is a neurobehavioral diagnosis!

My Top 3 Famous Autistic People 

Temple Grandin

Temple Grandin

Temple Grandin

One of my favorites is Temple Grandin.  I have included a couple of  YouTube video presentations of Temple as she speaks  about her life.  Her appreciation for her her mother is apparent.  She did not allow her to quit or to take the easy road.  That she was required to have good manners teaches us volumes.  She was pushed to learn and to engage socially and today she is a sought after public speaker.  She is also a Professor of Animal Sciences at Colorado State University.  If you’d like to learn a bit more about her, you can do so here in her website and her bio.  http://www.grandin.com/temple.html

Or this entry from ‘biography.com’:  Temple Grandin. [Internet]. 2015. The Biography.com website.  Available from: http://www.biography.com/people/temple-grandin-38062 [Accessed 16 Feb 2015].

 

The remarkable story of Temple Grandin teaches so much regarding what an autistic person faces.  She speaks about how she does not think in words but thinks in pictures.  How I wish I could see how my granddaughter thinks.  It would make it so much easier to meaningfully communicate with her.  How about you?  Wouldn’t you like to see how their little minds work and what they are feeling like the sensory things that make them act crazy.  Apparently, based on Grandin’s story, it is a lifetime challenge.

Here is a lovely article about how Temple received acknowledgement through the wonderfully done movie about her life.  Claire Dane received an Emmy for Best Actress for her portrayal of Ms. Grandin. The account of the evening and the positive way it affected Temple is to me quite heartwarming.  I can see my beautiful girl doing well in life because of this remarkable story about Temple Grandin.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/alphabet-kids/201008/autism-activist-temple-grandin-was-best-moment-and-best-dressed-emmys

In her books you get an excellent sense of what her world is like, where she was and what she has learned.  I especially enjoyed the movie about her younger years that preceded her accomplishments in the field of engineering and humane treatment of animals in the meat packing industry.  Whether you watch the movie or read one of her books, I’m confident you will feel it was time well spent.

A Not So Good … A Disturbing Example

Adam Lanza

In November 2013 a report was released that summarized the lengthy investigation into the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the deadliest in United States history.  Adam Lanza took his mother’s life before coming to the school and then committed suicide at the time of his horrific killings of 27 people, 20 of whom were children.

While this 20 year old was diagnosed to be in the autism spectrum there is NO evidence that his autistic characteristics resulted in his decision to become a murderer.  A former teacher said of him that “he exhibited anti-social behavior, rarely interacted with other students and was obsessed with writing about battles and destruction and war.”  What is disturbing to me was the discovery that his mother had several guns, took her boys to do gun practice, and that Lanza was into violent gaming such as ‘Call of Duty’.

So why?  Why this out of the norm autistic conduct?  His father, divorced and not living with his son who lived with his mother, felt that in his adolescence there appeared to be undiagnosed schizophrenia and psychopathy.  Could this be the reason?

We are not likely to ever solidly determine what significance his autism spectrum disorder had on his life and the violent choices he made resulting in the senseless loss of life for so many.  It must be emphasized that aggressive predatory conduct is not a characteristic of autism which is first and foremost a brain-related developmental disorder NOT a mental illness such that it presents in such horrific ways.  Thankfully I can say that the preponderance I discovered of famous autistic people were artists, authors and poets, actors, models and musicians.

However, a great example of a musician is this wonderful example of an overnight success in the music world….

Susan Boyle – A Touching Example

Susan Boyles

Susan Boyle

In the first 7 minutes of this video I was in tears.  OH MY GOODNESS!  So…I just couldn’t resist inserting this YouTube of an hour long show that tells the amazing story around this beautiful songstress!  Now there are some commercials, just advance through them.  If you will just watch 7 1/2 minutes you will see enough to see what I mean.  Then later when you have time and desire to do so come back to it and watch the whole story.  WOW!

If you enjoy music then you no doubt know about this wonderful Scottish woman who sang her way into the hearts of millions when she competed on the show, Britain’s Got Talent (BGT) in 2009.  Before she had even completed the opening phrase of  “I Dreamed A Dream” from les Miserables, the audience was on its feet in a standing ovation.  How exhilarating an experience this must have been for them and certainly for her?  Can you imagine that within 9 days of her audition there had been videos, interviews, and the rendition of her Cry Me a River viewed over 100 million times?

That was no small beginning, but she wasn’t singing professionally when she went to the audition, so in truth she did have a small beginning.  And even though she took second place for her BGT performance she has grown to embrace a remarkable musical career.  She still lived in Scotland, in the family home, a four bedroom ‘council home’ purchased with her earnings in 2010 while she cared for her mother until her death, at 91 years old, in 2007.  Now she has a home, still modest by many American standards, and as of 2013 she is worth 22 million pounds, has sold over 19 million albums, was nominated twice for Grammy Awards, and in 2013 was awarded the Icon Award from the Radio Forth association.   Amazing!

As a the youngest of four brothers and five sisters she grew up believing that she was born with complications of child birth and oxygen deprivation.  It was only later that she was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.  She was bullied in school being called “Simple Susie”, and worse, much worse, but has been found to have an above average IQ.   Disturbing how students can be with one another, isn’t it?!

Get a sense of the person she is from this interview, certainly endearing.  This was an interview conducted right after her wonderful performance on Britain’s Got Talent show.

 

To be fair, we started this discussion with three really famous folks who, yes indeed, are not in my list.  Jonathan Mitchell, an autistic author wrote a fascinating article about these three famous supposedly autistic people.  He presents his analysis from his personal experience of autism as to whether these folks really are autistic.  It is a detailed and appears to be a well researched article with historic and other factual points that you may find interesting.  Supposedly, observing autistic characteristics does not necessarily substantiate a diagnosis or suspicion of autism.  This is long but I found it interesting and it makes some interesting points about “neurodiversity”.   In fact it is the opposite view from comments of Temple Grandin.

http://www.jonathans-stories.com/non-fiction/undiagnosing.html

What do you think?  Can we learn something of value from folks who have plugged through their disabling conditions associated with autism?  Do you find it alarming to learn that there are a few disturbing accounts of murderers who were autistic?  What about the musicians and authors?  Don’t you find that encouraging?

What did I take from today’s blog?  

That we can learn allot from famous autistic people and that we should discover our children’s strengths and then we need to support their growth in those areas of strength.

What Have You Taken From Today’s Blog?

Please do share your thoughts and experiences with me.  And if you have any questions I welcome an opportunity to answer them.  Drop me a line by commenting below.  Or…. Contact Me Here!

Kind regards,

16 Responses to “Famous Autistic People – Can We Learn From Their Life Stories?

  • I believe Aspergers is in the same spectrum as Autism but manifests quite differently. I also understand that Asbergers is far more common than we might think and that it is often undiagnosed. Apparently some people with Aspergers function very well in our society and make excellent scientists and in other roles where their ability to stay focussed on detail is extraordinary.
    Remember Dustin Hoffmann in Rainman – though that was Autism wasn’t it? Is Aspergers considered to be a form of Autism?

    • admin

      Yes Eoin, you are right Aspergers is considered to be part of the Autism Spectrum Disorder. I am finding that even within a diagnosis for Autism there are a wider range of abilities and disabilities. For instance my granddaughter at 6 years old and three years of working with the alphabet still does not recognize all of the letters by sight and out of order, numbers either. Another child I am familiar with has done so well with math and english that he is in advanced classes for these subjects but struggles with social interactions, (lots of ‘mean kid’ stuff happening to him), gets crazy with scratchy clothing and does not eat well all because of his sensory processing disorder that he struggles with.

      Thank you for the reminder about the Rainman movie and Dustin Hoffman’s performance of an autistic savant. Remarkable story!

      Thanks again for dropping by. I hope others find value in what they are reading here.

      Linda

  • Very informative post! I never knew Susan Boyle was autistic!

    • admin

      In know, huh! She is has an amazing ability to reach out with her voice in song. It is a gift and one that has been fun to see her continue to develop and share with us because of her audition on Britains’s Got Talent. It seems that many autistic folks folks work through their autism and do something truly great. My granddaughter loves to sing, I think this is why the info on Susan so profoundly struck a cord with me.

      Linda

  • Great article! It’s funny and inspiring that many autistic people out there also happen to be some of the most creative and intelligent individuals. There was a recent article about a little girl (maybe 5 years old) that could paint these mind bending abstract pictures and communicate with her cat. Just some outrageous stuff..
    Keep up the great work!
    -Stu

    • admin

      Thank you Stu for dropping in and sharing your story about the 5 year old. What she is doing lines up nicely with what I have read about Temple Grandin and her way of helping folks to see how we are made more human by how we treat our animal friends. Our minds are wonderful and amazing things aren’t they?!!!

      Linda

  • Hi Linda, a very enlightening post, informative, relevant and helpful. You also covered the engaging part well.

    A remark:
    The sentence: Where one child will have repetitive stimming behaviors, another may cover their ears and run from loud noises. Not familiar with the word, ‘stimming’ is this mis-spelled or is it a term in the special needs world.

    Cheers, Jerry

    • admin

      Hello Jerry. Thanks much for dropping in for a visit to my site. Its good to hear that you found the post worth your time, even relevant and helpful.

      The term “stimming” is a term often used in this world of autism and special needs. It is probably something I need to do better about defining as I write in my post. THANKS MUCH for your question! I should be careful to clarify words that may be new to folks.

      Linda

  • Hi Linda
    I did not know about this person until today.
    This article is very tuching and very interesting
    Thank you very much

    • admin

      Hello Daniella,

      Yes the story around Susan Boyle is indeed very touching. I loved studying a bit about her and seeing how much she has grown as a person and in her music after being on Britain’s Got Talent. It is very unsettling to learn about people like Lanza and so it was great to include her as a way to life our spiritis.

      Your visit to my site is most appreciated. I hope if you found something of value here that you will come back now and again to see what else we have discovered or are sharing.

      Linda

  • Hi Linda, thank you so much for this great source of information about autistic people. It is so important to understand who they really are, there is so much we can learn from them. Thanks for sharing your knowledge!
    Vera

    • admin

      Hello Vera,

      I really appreciate you stopping in. My precious and precocious granddaughter has a diagnosis for autism coupled with a moderate intellectual disability. I see in her so many amazing things and just want her to first be safe in a world that can sometimes be unkind, even cruel, and then be fully capable of engaging in the ways she can to embrace life. Through her I am learning so very much!

      Linda

  • This is truly eye opening for me cause I actually never heard of these people let alone their stories. It’s good to see how much they were able to overcome. I never knew people could overcome autism so well and accomplish what they did

    • admin

      Yes Diondre, it is amazing and oh so encouraging to see that people have been empowered to reach their remarkable skills and abilities within the framework of how their brains and makeup are designed and setup. Always leaves me feeling encouraged, to see people doing well, (of course Lanza is an example of what can go wrong) and Boyle and Grandin of those that have done and are still doing very well.

      Thanks for dropping in.

  • Hello Linda and thanks for a great website and fascinating article on famous autistic people. As a supporter of adults with learning difficulties, I came into contact with autism on a daily basis, and of course everyone is different and special. What well known autistic people share is the ability to inspire many people with their stories. Thank you.
    Peter

    • admin

      Thank you Peter, for coming by for a read and for your well spoken acknowledgment that “everyone is different and special”. With your daily contact I am sure you saw qualities that both encouraged and discouraged you, perhaps not in the autistic folks but maybe in others in their circle of influence. I was certainly inspired by Susan Boyles. I hope others will likewise find value in this post or find something of value here in my website. Thanks for sharing a bit of your experience and perspective with us.

      Linda

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