The word ‘autism’ has been derived from the Greek ‘autos,’ meaning ‘self.’ In its modern sense, the word was first used by Hans Asperger of the Vienna University Hospital in 1938. Hans Asperger and Leo Kanner were the first to identify Autism Spectrum Disorders, ASDs in 1940. Autism is a neural condition appearing in early childhood indicated by self-centered and repetitive behaviors. It is also indicated by difficulties in communication and social interaction. A distinguishing feature of autism is that fantasy supersedes reality in this case. The occurrence of autism in 1943 was 1 in 10,000 while its prevalence has notably increased as assessed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) being 11 in 1,000 as of 2008. Autism has something to do with heredity, but the exact cause of this disorder is not known. Whereas it is considered a neural disorder by medical professionals and psychologists, there are people who just do not consider it as a disorder and treat it just as a different personality trait. Quite a few great men of very high renown have been identified as autists.
1. Hugh Blair
Hugh Blair was born in 1708 in Scotland. He is best known as the first recorded and well-documented case of autism. In fact, the case was documented on account of a lawsuit by his younger brother, John, who in 1937 became the legal guardian of Blair. In the 1748 lawsuit, John wanted the annulment of Blair’s marriage to Nicholas Mitchell to gain his inheritance. John claimed that Blair was mentally incompetent. Blair showed a bizarre behavior in many ways and on many different occasions. He collected feathers and twigs, insisted on wearing an old dress with new patches which he sewed from new cloth taken from different resources without the permission or notice of the owners. He repeated some his actions many times, and insisted on having always the same seat in church. Hugh Blair is studied as a case history of autism. The historian Houston and psychologist Frith concluded that ‘If it is possible to recognize autism despite vast differences in culture, then this allows us to see more clearly the common and enduring, as well as the local and transient features of the condition.’
2. Victor of Aveyron
Victor of Aveyron was a feral child, sometimes known as a wild child on account of living in isolation in a naked state away from human beings and in the company of animals in the forest. The boy was captured near Saint-Semin-Sur-Rance, France in 1797 but disappeared after being displayed in a town. He reappeared on January 8, 1800 on his own and was taken care of and studied for 5 years by a physician, Jean Marc Gaspard Itard. Itard named him Victor, and he believed that Victor had ‘Lived in an absolute solitude from his 4th or 5th almost to his 12th year, which is the age he may have been when he was taken in the Caune Woods.’ Tigard’s experience opened new ways for educating the developmentally delayed children.
3. Dawn Prince-Hughes
Dawn Prince-Hughes was born in Carbondale, Illinois on January 31, 1964. He received his M.A. and Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Herisau, Switzerland. He is associated with the Jane Goodall Institute and has authored many books including: Songs of the Gorilla Nation, My Journey Through Autism, Gorillas Among Us, A Primate Ethnographer’s Book of Days, Expecting Teryk, and The Archetype of the Ape-man. Though sometimes she is considered to have Asperger’s syndrome, she is considered more as a high-functioning autistic. Having observed the Silverback Gorillas, taking care of their families while she worked at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo, she concluded that the root cause of anger was often embarrassment, and that humor was a natural response to fear.
4. Daniel Tammet
Daniel Tammet was born in London, England on January 31, 1979. He is a renowned writer and educator best known for his book Born on the Blue Day, published in 2006 and considered the best-selling 2006 memoir. It is about his personal experience as a savant autistic. A savant is a person considered mentally retarded with exceptional brilliance in a limited field. In 2004 he set a European record by reciting the constant pi, 3.141 to 22,514 decimal places in 5 hrs and 9 minutes. The current world champion is Hiroyoki Gotu who memorized 42,195 digit places of pi. Tammet’s Embracing the Wide Sky is a 2009 best seller, in France and his book Thinking in Numbers has been translated into 20 languages.
5. Donna Williams
Donna Williams was born in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia in 1963. She is an autistic and best known for enlightening people on the hidden corners of autism on account of her first-hand experience. She was diagnosed as a psychotic infant at the age of two. Her first book, Nobody Nowhere: The Extraordinary Autobiography of an Autistic was on the New York Times best-seller list. She has written many other books including: Autism and Sensing: The Unlost Instinct, Exposure Anxiety – The Invisible Cage, and The Jumbled Jigsaw: An Insider’s Approach to the Treatment of Autistic Spectrum “Fruit Salads.”
6. Matt Savage
Matt Savage was born to Dane and Lawrence Savage in Sudbury, Massachusetts, U.S in 1992. He is an autistic savant musician having extraordinary capabilities in music. He was diagnosed for Pervasive Development Disorder, a form of autism. He learned to read piano music without the help of any teacher, and by the age of 14 years was regarded as an accomplished musician and composer. Hyperlexia, or the capability of reading without learning, at an extraordinarily early age was one of his talents. He was also gifted with the capability of perfect pitch, which is the ability to identify or recreate a musical note without the help of any external reference.
7. Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein was born in Ulm, Kingdom of Wurttemberg, German Empire on March 14, 1879 and died in Princeton, New Jersey, U.S. on April 18, 1955. Einstein is best remembered for developing his famous Theory of Relativity which greatly impacted the scientific future of the world. Einstein’s name is synonymous with genius. Researchers opine that he suffered from Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism. He preferred loneliness in early childhood, repeated too frequently, and when grown up, was obsessed with complex topics. He was an annoying and confusing lecturer.
8. Charles Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin was born at Mount Shrewsbury, Shropshire, U.K. on February 12, 1809 and died in Downhouse, Downe, Kent, U.K on April 19, 1882. He is best known for his Theory of Evolution published in his most influential 1859 book On the Origin of Species. Professor Michael Fitzgerald conducted research on Darwin and noted that he was a solitary and unsocial child. Even when grown up, he avoided social interaction and was obsessed with geometrical mathematical problems. Fitzgerald concluded that he was ‘a rather obsessive-compulsive and ritualistic man.’
9. Amadeus Mozart
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born to Leopold Mozart and Anna Maria in Salzburg, Austria in 1719 and died on December 5, 1787. Mozart showed an extraordinary competency on the violin keyboard starting to compose at the age of only five and performed before the European royalty. At the age of 17 years, he was a court musician at Salzburg. He was the most prolific and influential composer of the Classic Era. He was hypertensive in respect of hearing, was quite touchy and moody, and used to fidgeting since his early childhood. Some experts think that he suffered from autism.
Michelangelo was born in Arezzo, Florence, Italy on March 6, 1475 and died in Rome, Papal States on February 18, 1564 at the age of 88. He is an unparalleled sculpturer, painter, and architect, and is named along with people of as high a stature as Leonardo da Vinci. He sculpted his best works, ‘Pieta’ and ‘David’ before he was 30 years old. His Fresco ‘Last Judgment’ on the ceiling of the Cistine Chapel, is an excellent work of artistic and historic value. Dr. Arshad and professor Fitzgerald opine that ‘Michelangelo’s single-minded work routine, unusual lifestyle, limited interests, poor social and communication skills, and various issues of life control appear to be features of high-functioning autism or Asperger’s syndrome.’
There does not seem to be anything wrong if the genius people do not like to mix with the common folk. After all, spots and stripes don’t go together. Instead of identifying the genius people like Newton and Einstein as people suffering from Autism Spectrum Disorders, ASDs, it would be more appropriate to identify them as different, rather superior, different people.