Autism Through The Ages

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

In this week’s post I’m going to briefly explore the history of autism.

So gather round for storytime! 😀

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As autism rates increase, many people have come to believe that the condition is relatively new. Whilst the clinical term may be in it’s infancy, autism can in fact trace it’s genetic lineage back through millennia!

Genetic research has shown that some of the key genes involved in the development of autism came from our shared heritage with the apes, predating the evolution from monkey to man (somewhere in the region of 7 million years ago).

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Other related autism genes are slightly more “recent” than this, having come into existence over 100,000-years ago.

Whilst a third of autistic genes may come about through spontaneous genetic mutation, from this evidence we can see that autistic genes were inserted into the genetic code of our ancestors for a reason.

Interestingly in ancient times, people that displayed autistic traits were in fact highly revered. Such autistic traits as exceptional memory skills, creative thinking, observational skills, heightened senses and extensive knowledge in important areas such as plants and animals (i.e specialist interests), would all have been greatly valued in an ancient community. The incorporation of these skills within the group would have been essential to their survival.

Experts also believe that autistic skills such as memory and attention to detail may have contributed to the creation of ancient cave paintings such as this one:

How often we focus on the negatives of autism that we fail to stop and consider the reasons these genes exist. If they were a hindrance to the human race, why have they not been eradicated through millennia of evolution?

I think Temple Grandin sums it up pretty well here:

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And she would be right! 😉 Experts believe that autistic genes have been conserved to advance our intelligence. Variants of autistic genes have been linked to improved cognitive performance and the formation of new brain cells.

Such talented historical figures as Michelangelo, Mozart, Beethoven and of course, Albert Einstein, are all believed to have shown signs of autism- but history remembers them for their esteemed achievements, not their genetic quirks.

Something that we would all do well to think of when we commit autistic people to the annals of history in future.

So there we have it Earthlings, I hope you find this information as interesting as I found it 🙂 I could go on further buuuuttt I think I’ll spare you the clinical history of autism for another day 😉

Have a good weekend everyone! 🙂

Aoife

Celebrities with Autism

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

Today we’re going to take a look at some famous people who you may not realize are on the spectrum.

Susan Boyle

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After achieving viral fame in 2009 for her powerful voice and quirky personality in ‘Britain’s got Talent‘, the Scottish songstress was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome in 2012. Boyle had in fact spent her entire life believing that she was brain damaged following oxygen deprivation at birth!

If you have a spare hour, I’d highly recommend checking out her documentary ‘There’s Something About Susan‘ where she talks about her diagnosis 🙂

Dan Aykroyd

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Whilst never formally diagnosed, actor and comedian Dan Aykroyd of ‘Ghostbusters‘ and ‘The Blues Brothers‘ fame believes he has a touch of Asperger’s syndrome. Having read about the condition, Aykroyd self diagnosed with AS based on certain symptoms and autistic traits he possesses, in addition to his intense childhood obsessions such as ghosts.

Daryl Hannah

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That’s right- Daryl Hannah, the sexy siren from ‘Kill Bill‘ and ‘Splash‘ has been quite vocal in recent years about her childhood autism diagnosis. So little was known of autism at the time that it was recommended that Hannah be medicated and institutionalized! Hannah suffers from debilitating shyness resulting in her withdrawal from the silver screen in recent years, but has learned to cope with her symptoms better in adult life 🙂

Courtney Love 

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Controversial ‘Hole‘ singer and widow of ‘Nirvana‘ front-man Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love was diagnosed with mild autism as a child at the age of 9 according to her biography ‘Courtney Love: The Real story‘.

Other spectrum celebs include actor Paddy Considine, the late socialite and TV personality Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, world renowned autism spokeswoman and animal behaviorist Temple Grandin and indie singer-songwriter Ladyhawke.

In addition to this list of confirmed autistic celebs, there are a number of other famous people whom psychologists have speculated are on the spectrum.

Albert Einstein

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Considered by many to have been one of the greatest scientists of all time, Albert Einstein is widely believed by experts to have had had many of the traits associated with AS. Einstein reportedly didn’t speak until he was 4, obsessively repeated sentences and was a loner as a child.

Several other renowned scientists and inventors such as Issac Newton, Charles Darwin, Michelangelo and Benjamin Franklin  were also thought to have had some form of autism

Fun Fact:  Microsoft’s Bill Gates is often cited as an example of AS by experts as he exhibits many autistic traits, BUT he has never in fact been officially diagnosed as such!

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

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Many biographical accounts of renowned composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart have made reference to his peculiar behaviours such as frequent facial grimacing, repetitive movements of hands and feet, mood swings and impulse control- traits that are often associated with ASD’s.

Numerous other musical legends that are also believed to be on the spectrum include Michael Jackson, James Taylor and Ludwig Van Beethoven.

Tim Burton

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Famed for his dark and eccentric film making, Tim Burton has been informally diagnosed with AS by his former long term partner Helena Bonham Carter following research into autism for a role. After watching a documentary about autism, Burton told Carter that “That’s how he felt as a child”, leading Carter to an “a-ha moment”!

Many experts have suggested that creative writers and directors such as as Mark Twain, Stanley Kubrick, Jane Austen, Woody Allen, Hans Christian Anderson, Andy Warhol and Alfred Hitchcock may indeed have some form of autism.

Looking at all of these amazing individuals, we would all do well to recognize that an autism diagnosis by no means should keep you from achieving great things 🙂

Aoife

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