Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication.
We know that there is not one autism but many subtypes, most influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Because autism is a spectrum disorder, each person with autism has a distinct set of strengths and challenges. The ways in which people with autism learn, think and problem-solve can range from highly skilled to severely challenged. Some people with ASD may require significant support in their daily lives, while others may need less support and, in some cases, live entirely independently.
The discovery of autism is relatively recent. In the 30s of the last century Leo Kanner and Hans Asperger described this disorder for the first time, until that moment confused with other mental illnesses, and the unfortunate children who were affected ended up in asylums, where they spent a life of suffering and abandonment.
Thus, began the first research on the causes of autism and on the first experimental therapies; a search that never ended: today we know how to recognize autism and we have valid tools for early diagnosis; we know little about the causes, we do not yet know if it is possible to prevent it and we do not yet have a definitive therapy.
According to data from the National Observatory for monitoring autism spectrum disorders, in Italy, one in 77 children has an autism spectrum disorder with prevalence in males: males are affected 4,4 times more than females.
There are many testimonies of parents whose children suffer from autism, like that of Valentina, mother of an autistic child: “in September my little girl turned 9 months. She laughed, clapped her hands, played. After 3 months she did not do any of this anymore, she was absent.” In fact, the word autism derives from Greek and means “alone with yourself”.
Autism is not a definite disorder, but a set of changes in brain development. Autism spectrum disorders are variable from one subject to another, in fact each autistic child is a case in itself.
Indeed, history is full of people who have been identified as autistic, such as:
- Director Tim Burton, who addresses the theme of “the different” through the story of Edward, a very personal character and close to the author’s experience. This is a dramatic tale that reflects social exclusion. The protagonist of the film is “different” but he is also a creature in need of acceptance and integration.
- The scientist and mathematician Albert Einstein, who did not speak until he was 4, did not construct a complete sentence until he was 9 , yet he was very intelligent.
- The politician Thomas Jefferson. A number of contemporary documents refer to Jefferson’s sensitivity to loud noises and his many strange routines, such as the constant company of a bird.
- The sculptor, painter, architect and poet Michelangelo. Two psychiatrists have come to the conclusion that Michelangelo suffered from a form of autism. Those who are affected, in fact , have difficulty in communicating with others, but can often manifest an unusual and obsessive talent for music, painting, or mathematics. According to the two psychiatrists, who have long investigated Michelangelo’s painting, all the artist’s works reveal the presence of this disease. Michelangelo, for example, was obsessive and followed an extremely repetitive pace of life. The loss of control, doctors reveal, caused him great frustration and he concentrated so much on his work that he spent 8 years working on the “Giudizio Universale”.
- The classical composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Mozart was assumed to be extremely sensitive to loud noises, had a notoriously poor attention span and could sweep through a cycle of facial expressions in seconds.
- The physicist, astronomer and scientist Sir Isaac Newton. Newton isolated himself as much as possible and was embarrassed when it came to having the typical daily conversation. He was not good at keeping friends and relied on routines.
- The former CEO of Apple Steve Jobs. Those who believe Jobs is on the spectrum cite odd behavior like his obsession with perfection, his unorthodox ways of thinking, and his general lack of empathy in dealing with others.
And many others.
The people on this list have been carefully selected. Experts agree that every person listed here likely exhibits or exhibited autistic tendencies.
Seneca said it 2000 years ago: “Nullum magnum ingenium sine mixtura dementiae fuit”. There has never been intelligence without a little madness. Autism and creativity are two sides of the same coin, you cannot have one without having the other, too. One of the criteria for detecting autism is a mottled ability, in which an individual excels at something while being denied in another field. A distinguishing mark of genius.
Autism today is not cured, but it is understood. What makes a person gifted with talent is not always getting good grades at school, but the different way of looking at the world and learning it.
An autistic person should not be changed but understood and listened to with the heart. Therefore always remember that people with autism have feelings, so be sensitive and tolerant.