ASD, meaning Autism Spectrum Disorder, refers to a disorder with a widely varying range of severity. All people within this spectrum, however, have varying degrees of difficulty in three main areas: social communication, social interaction and social imagination. While behaviours associated with severe autism are typically superficially evident, those on the lower end of the spectrum do not necessarily have immediately identifiable symptoms. The latter may find life even more difficult, with their symptomatic behaviours misunderstood as bad behaviour or aloofness.
People with high-functioning autism often have an average or above-average IQ. Most of the celebrities on this list fall under that category, with relatively mild symptoms, though not all. High-functioning autism is often associated with high levels of creativity and thinking outside the box; it also endows the individual with high levels of focus, often verging on obsessive behaviour. Although that word generally has negative connotations, obsession within a creative realm can be what makes some people stand out and excel over their peers.
The main difficulties for people on the autism spectrum are social. They have difficulty reading cues, often finding it hard to read people’s reactions. They might stand too close, without realising that an interlocutor is uncomfortable. They may not be comfortable with eye contact, or understand how important it is. People on the autism spectrum may tend to be very literal, and often misunderstand sarcasm. Thus, those with autism are too often misunderstood and even bullied.
The following ten people, though, admirably overcame the challenges their disorder presented and are an inspiration to many. Who are some of the most famous celebrities with autism spectrum disorder? Some may truly surprise you!
10. Matthew Labyorteaux
According to a self-named blog about Matthew Labyorteaux (credited on film as Matthew Laborteaux), the actor known best for his role as Albert on Little House on the Prairie was the second of two boys adopted by Ron and Frankie Labyorteaux. Older brother Patrick, also an actor, was a success story: When the Labyorteaux adopted him as a baby, he had been diagnosed as having schizophrenia. With patience and love, Patrick was symptom-free within just a few years.
Matthew followed suit. Originally he could not be touched and slept standing in his crib, but after a lot of love and consistent care, autism became a part of who he was rather than the thing that defined him. Although he did not walk until age three nor talk till age 5, Matthew has been in several movies and co-founded a charitable organization to help troubled youth.
9. Matt Savage
According to the Autism Higher Education Foundation, this young prodigy was diagnosed as having Pervasive Developmental Disorder (high-functioning autism) when he was three. Many sources refer to him as an autistic savant. Savants show extreme proficiency in one area, in excess of what is considered normal. Savage was a Jazz child prodigy, teaching himself to read piano music at the age of six and performing for Jazz master Dave Brubeck by age 8. The 21-year-old, who has been on several major late-night talk shows and who has traveled the world extensively performing for important people such as heads of state, has already released over nine albums.
8. James Durbin
James Durbin was on season 10 of American Idol. Because he stood out, he has been able to make a career in music since his time on the show. This is remarkable for anyone, but especially so for someone who, according to Durbin himself, was diagnosed at the age of 10 with both Tourette and Asperger syndromes. Durbin was bullied a lot in childhood, because of traits related to both disorders. The song “Screaming” from his album Memories of a Beautiful Disaster is inspired by those experiences, depicting how he would come home after school each day and scream as loud as he could into a pillow to release his frustration. Like many people with Asperger’s, Durbin hyper-focuses, a trait that is extremely useful in music. He says when he is on stage he is at his most comfortable, that he is fully himself and unselfconscious.
This indie/new wave musician, born Phillipa Brown in New Zealand in 1979, took her stage name from the movie of the same name. Pip, as she was called growing up, had many childhood health issues including allergies and various illnesses. With a diagnosis of Asperger’s given only in recent years, according to the BBC, the singer/songwriter is still not comfortable talking about it, but she credits the syndrome with the reason she’s a musician. She recounts listening to music non-stop as a child, an obsession which developed into a successful career.
6. Susan Boyle
Scottish singer Susan Boyle was unknown when she first got on stage to perform on Britain’s Got Talent. Boyle’s somewhat frumpy appearance and coarse accent did not prepare audiences for the magnificence of her voice. It’s safe to say public reception to the singer has been mixed. On the one hand, her voice is incredible; no one can dispute that. On the other, there have been headlines like: “Susan Boyle has Asperger’s – not brain damage.” It was Boyle herself who had been told she had brain damage previous to her quite recent diagnosis of Asperger’s. In an interview published in papers across the world, she expressed relief at having a more specific diagnosis, and one with less stigma. Though most know Asperger’s is not easy to live with, it may soften people’s approach to the woman perceived as odd.
5. Daryl Hannah
Daryl Hannah, now in her early 50s, opened up last year about her childhood diagnosis of autism. In those days there was no diagnosis of Asperger’s. The star of films such as Splash, Blade Runner and Steel Magnoliasrecalls being intensely shy as a child, largely due to her disorder. She rocked to self-soothe, and admits she still does. Although acting was akin to a magical land for her, she never got used to being the center of attention and refused to give interviews or attend her own movie premieres. She ultimately left the limelight, and though still dabbles in acting, works as a career environmentalist who has been arrested several times after protests. Hannah lives in a one-room house using solar energy and well water, and drives a truck fueled on french-fry grease.
4. Courtney Love
Courtney Love (born Courtney Michelle Harrison) was diagnosed with a mild form of autism when she was nine, according to Poppy Z. Brite in Courtney Love: The Real Story. What does “mild” autism involve? With Love’s extremely checkered history, it’s impossible to say which, if any, of her behaviors are directly related to the disorder. She had a troubled home life, travelling back and forth between families and getting kicked out of various schools. It is no wonder the singer has a history with drug use and other delinquent behaviors; no one can say if autism is attributable to any of these, but her undeniable talent and the self-reflection of Hole’s lyrics certainly reveal a highly intelligent, if troubled, individual.
3. Dan Aykroyd
According to an interview he gave the UK’s Daily Mail, Dan Aykroyd, like James Durbin, has been diagnosed both with Tourette’s and Asperger’s. The former diagnosis was given at age 12, but the Asperger’s diagnosis was not given until the early eighties when Aykroyd saw a specialist at his wife’s insistence. He states that two of his obsessions (common in Asperger’s individuals) are with ghosts and policemen. The former obsession was his inspiration for the film Ghostbusters, and in real life he admitted to a fixation with Hans Holzer, who he referred to as “the greatest ghost hunter ever.” A third Ghostbuster film is reportedly in the works.
2. Tim Burton
Although he has never had a formal diagnosis, Tim Burton and spouse Helena Bonham Carter both believe the director, famous for his quirky and eccentric films, may have Asperger’s, or at least that he falls within the autism spectrum. While Bonham Carter was researching for a role where she played mother to several autistic boys, she recognized traits shared by her husband, saying in an interview that, “While making this drama, I realized he has a bit of Asperger’s in him. You start recognizing the signs.” Also, according to the Daily Mail Burton himself reportedly said to his wife while they were watching a documentary that the description given of autism was largely how he felt as a child. In fact, he claims Edward Scissorhands, his first film, is somewhat autobiographical, as it describes his life on the margins during his childhood.
1. Stanley Kubrick
When this renowned filmmaker was growing up a diagnosis of Asperger’s or even the broader label of autism was unlikely. Kubrick was born in 1928 and autism was first given a name in the 1940s, making him a teen by the time there could have been any such diagnosis. Many deceased famous people, such as Einstein, Mozart and Andy Warhol, are now thought to have had autism spectrum disorder. Kubrick is one who Dr. Michael Fitzgerald and co-writer Viktoria Lyons have diagnosed in retrospect, discussing him in their book Asperger Syndrome: A Gift or A Curse? Kubrick, who directed 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange and Eyes Wide Shut, fit the autism spectrum: He had poor social skills, narrow and obsessive interests, literal thinking, inflexibility and more. If Asperger’s helped make Kubrick who he was, and experts agree this is likely, it was clearly a gift to the artistic world in this case.