Autism Awareness Week: 10 celebrities who soared to success while living with autism
Autism is a medical condition that has varying degrees of severity. Some people with the disorder have gone on to lead fairly normal lives and have even reached levels of fame and celebrity status. Artists such as actors, filmmakers, TV show creators and singers who live their lives in the public domain, too can have symptoms related to autism.
It may come as a surprise but autism is a far more common phenomenon, and according to the National Autistic Society, around 700,000 people in the UK live with autism, which is more than 1 in 100 people, while 1 in every 59 people in the US have it.
Celebrities are mostly under a lot of scrutiny, so coming out as autistic can be a huge risk. While being on the spectrum can sometimes lead to greater challenges, these celebs with autism have been able to use their unique way of seeing the world to achieve great feats.
Here is a list of 10 celebrities who embraced their autism in such a way that it helped them be true to themselves, and also helped them be a better version of themselves every single day of their successful lives and careers.
1. Jerry Seinfeld
Jerry Seinfeld, considered to be one of the most popular comedians of all time, has said in multiple interviews that he believes himself to be on the autism spectrum. Even though the actor has never been officially diagnosed by a medical professional, Seinfeld has defended his self-diagnosis by citing various social challenges he experienced since childhood, as well as his tendency to think literally.
The comedian agrees that he is still "figuring out who he is." Seinfeld confirmed his self-diagnosis of his symptoms, saying, "I think, on a very drawn-out scale, I think I'm on the spectrum."
He went on to explain, "I'm very literal. When people talk to me and they use expressions, sometimes I don't know what they're saying. But I don't see it as dysfunctional. I just think of it as an alternate mindset."
2. David Byrne
In 2009, Byrne acknowledged that he, in fact, had Asperger’s, and somewhat misguidedly believed that he was able to work it out through his music and as a result, no longer has it. “I’m imperfect, but I communicate better. I don’t just bury things and let them explode at some point. I’m able to talk in a social group whereas before I would retreat into a corner,” the former Talking Heads frontman revealed recently.
When asked about his condition, he said he just sees himself as “different” – not defective. “We all don't have to be the same,” Byrne has said in the past. “I used to get annoyed when folks placed value judgments on sociability — implying those who are not gregarious or social are somehow less — it's just different.”
3. Dan Ackroyd
Dan Aykroyd is another star who has been formally diagnosed with forms of autism. When he was a mere child of 12 years, Ackroyd was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and Tourettes. It was not until several years later that his wife convinced him to go in for further testing. It was confirmed in the early 1980s that in addition to Asperger’s, he had severe obsessions with policemen and ghosts.
As it happens, 'Ghostbusters' helped shoot his career skyward: "One of my symptoms included my obsession with ghosts and law enforcement—I carry around a police badge with me, for example. I became obsessed by Hans Holzer, the greatest ghost hunter ever. That’s when the idea of my film Ghostbusters was born."
And he has noted in the past that his obsession with police and college study of criminology also served him well when it came to writing the 'Blues Brothers': “They were classic recidivists, they could never stay out of trouble, always looking for it, borderline sociopathic hedonists, and I was well armed criminological terms and knowledge.”
4. Courtney Love
Whether as the wife of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain or the lead singer of punk band Hole, Courtney Love has enjoyed a long career in the spotlight. In a popular biography about the grunge singer, it was revealed that Love has a mild form of autism. According to her, she struggles with social skills, and would practice social cues and conversation by visiting gay clubs with close friends.
In a Rolling Stone interview, the singer once said: "When I talk about being introverted, I was diagnosed autistic. At an early age, I would not speak. Then I simply bloomed. My first visit to a psychiatrist was when I was, like, three. Observational therapy. TM for tots. You name it, I’ve been there."
5. Bill Gates
Bill Gates, the phenomenally successful billionaire CEO of Microsoft, has been diagnosed by amateur “armchair physicians” on the internet and in the media for years as being autistic. His legendary eccentricities, including his habit of 'rocking' and a disdain for the opinions of others, have led many to speculate that he has Asperger’s.
While nothing has ever been confirmed regarding whether or not the famous philanthropist falls on the autism spectrum, those who seem to think he is, cite things like the distinct rocking motion Gates displays when he concentrates, his shortened and monotonous speech patterns, and his habits of avoiding eye contact on the rare occasion he speaks directly with someone else, which are all common characters of those on the spectrum.
6. Susan Boyle
Susan Boyle, who shot to fame on 'Britain's Got Talent' in 2009 and went on to become one of the bestselling British female artists ever, was diagnosed quite early but chose to keep it a secret for various years.
"It was the wrong diagnosis when I was a kid," she said at the time. "I was told I had brain damage. I always knew it was an unfair label. Now I have a clearer understanding of what's wrong and I feel relieved and a bit more relaxed about myself."
The singer now admits that her struggles growing up made her more determined to succeed but also left their mark on her. "You don't fight without some resentment." She has also insisted multiple times that the new Asperger's diagnosis neither defines nor confines her.
"It will not make any difference to my life. It's just a condition that I have to live with and work through." She hopes, though, that it will lead to people showing greater empathy and understanding towards her and her condition. "I think people will treat me better because they will have a much greater understanding of who I am and why I do the things I do."
7. Chris Fischer
Amy Schumer was the first person to publicly speak about her chef husband Chris Fischer's condition. "I knew from the beginning that my husband's brain was a little different than mine," Schumer said in her latest Netflix special. She continued, "I have to start this over because I really want to get this right because I love him very much. My husband was diagnosed with what used to be called Asperger's. He has an autism spectrum disorder. He's on the spectrum, and there were some signs early on."
"Once he was diagnosed, it dawned on me how funny it was, because all of the characteristics that make it clear that he's on the spectrum are all of the reasons that I fell madly in love with him," Schumer told the Chicago audience in her hour-long special. "That's the truth. He says whatever is on his mind. He keeps it so real. He doesn't care about social norms or what you expect him to say or do."
8. Adam Young
Adam Young, also known as Owl City, has Asperger’s. According to Young, he struggles greatly with insomnia, which was incidentally also the topic of 'Fireflies,' one of his most famous songs. The singer often refers to himself as being deeply shy and socially introverted, both of which are common traits of the syndrome. For years, Young would only conduct interviews via email as he didn’t like speaking to people over the phone. The most difficult part about fame for Young is performing in front of a crowd, however, playing and getting lost in the music calms him down.
The young musician admits to having spent most of his high school years alone and without friends. "I never had sisters, I never dated girls in high school, I never had girlfriends," he says. "I never had someone to ask, 'Will you sing on this?' [chuckles] So it's always like a different world as far as artistry in general."
9. Satoshi Tajiri
You may not know the name Satoshi Tajiri, but we’re sure you would recognize Pokémon, Tajiri’s most famous creation. Born in Tokyo in 1965, a young Tajiri had various obsessions — collecting bugs as a kid and arcade games as a teenager. Tajiri has stated previously that he is on the high-functioning end of the Autism Spectrum, along with the fact that he has Asperger’s Syndrome.
While the gaming genius has confirmed that he has ASD, he does not publicly talk about his condition and would rather remain away from the spotlight, focusing on work and on pursuing his own interests above fame and fortune. However, it has been suggested by many that his relentless focus and drive are a result of his condition, and this goes to show that ASD does not have to be an obstacle for success.
10. Matt Savage
Matt was a child prodigy who became a phenomenon in the world of Jazz. By the age of six, he had taught himself how to read piano music. By the time he was 8, he was performing for Dave Brubeck, Jazz master, etc. Matt was later diagnosed as a savant who is an autistic functioning at a high level. His disorder is known as Pervasive Development Disorder.
He said in an interview once, "What happened was, I was diagnosed with autism at age three, and I definitely had a lot of sensory aversions. So, I was put through many different therapies. But the one that really helped was auditory integration therapy at the age of six which was gradual sound desensitization. It really helped a lot, and right afterward I started picking out nursery rhymes on a toy xylophone piano and then started the real piano the same week."
As for dealing with his condition and moving on with life, Matt said, "As I’ve gotten older, of course, I’ve gotten a lot more commitments and I’ve been able to do more commitments. So, it sort of requires just being present for a certain amount of time. And the way I deal with it is to sort of isolate myself afterward and really give myself time to prepare for the next concert or the next interview."