Inspiring stories of people with Autism Spectrum Disorder
“Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.”
[Since the publication of the DSM-5 diagnostic manual in May 2013, all autism disorders are now merged under the overarching diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or have otherwise been classified under other disorders such as Social Pragmatic Communication Disorder.]
While research for the cure for ASD is still under progress, certain practices and methods adopted by people with ASD or the parents of a child with ASD prove that learning and development can be achieved successfully.
ASD may not have a cure, but that doesn’t mean people with ASD are helpless. With growing awareness on ASD and constant campaigning about the disorder, people now acknowledge the fact that it is more helpful to ‘Celebrate the Difference’ rather than sticking to conventional thoughts like waiting for the cure.
In this blog, we would like to highlight stories of two exceptional people, who have really driven home the point that being on the Autism Spectrum should not limit a person’s ambition in any way.
While ASD is thought to be a ‘newer condition,' histories reveal that many notable personalities have been on the Autism Spectrum. Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein, two of the world’s greatest scientists, showed symptoms of ASD.
Albert Einstein, one of history’s greatest physicists, was famous for his incredibly high IQ. At a very young age, he published groundbreaking research on Brownian motion, relativity and several other theories. Einstein’s intellectual achievements and originality, made his name synonymous with genius, and also earned him the Nobel prize for his theory on the PhotoElectric effect.
Born in Ulm, Germany, Einstein was not very receptive to authority and questioned conventional wisdom, even as a child, which eventually led to his expulsion from school.
Although his verbal development was slow, he had an innate curiosity about ordinary things like space and time. When his father bought him a compass at the age of five, he pondered over the nature of magnetic field, a quest that he would carry for the rest of his life. It is this questioning and deeply observant nature that led him to make several scientific breakthroughs in the field of science, specifically, quantum physics.
Literary works on Einstein’s life reveal situations where Einstein exhibited behavioral problems related to ASD.
Einstein had problems with social interactions due to his tactile sensitivity. Although he was brilliant, he found language difficult to comprehend, which resulted in him finding school hard.
People with ASD tend to have an intellectual perspective, a characteristic which was clearly evident in Einstein. Einstein loved music, and his love affair with his violin, Lina (as named by him), began when he was five. Mozart’s Sonata especially had a powerful impact on him. Experts even say that Einstein’s love for music could be an important factor in enabling him to channel his thoughts into scientific discoveries.
Later in life, he became a notoriously confusing lecturer, which could have been characteristic of ASD, where typically people find it difficult to converse for too long. While his thoughts were vivid, he projected them in an ambiguous style that was difficult to comprehend. Due to his tactile sensitivity, he had problems with touch too, and though he loved his children, he never allowed them to touch him.
Einstein as a Role-model
Einstein’s biography demonstrates that his love for music and nature, as well as his persistent interest in theoretical physics, all contributed to him overcoming any setbacks that may have come his way, to becoming one of the most intuitive scientists the world has seen.
Thomas Alva Edison
Thomas Alva Edison, one of the world’s most prolific inventors, was posthumously diagnosed as being within the Autism Spectrum.
The inventor of electric bulb owned a record of 1093 patent rights for all the works he had contributed to the field of science. Known as ‘The Wizard of Menlo Park’ for the New Jersey town where he did some of his best-known work, Edison quickly became famous at a very young age.
Edison was born in Maryland, Ohio and was the youngest of seven children. His mother, an accomplished school teacher, was a significant influence on Edison’s early life.
As a young child, Edison was known to be distracted and hyperactive. He once started a fire which destroyed the family barn. As punishment, his father whipped him publicly. When his family moved to Michigan in 1854, Edison attended a public school for about 12 weeks. During his time in school he struggled to keep up with other classmates because of his difficulty in concentrating for too long.
His teacher's method of having students memorize lessons by repeating words out loud, also confused him. Both these factors combined together resulted in him earning poor grades in class.
He was deemed ‘difficult’ by his teachers due to his hyperactivity and distractibility. Behaviors he exhibited closely resemble those found in symptoms of ASD, as was confirmed by several scientists later on.
Subsequently, he was homeschooled by his mother. She provided him with utmost care and taught him the nuances of social behavior. She exposed him to books that were at a far higher level than those that would have been prescribed for his age in a school. Because of his mother’s effort to expand Edison’s horizon of knowledge, he also gained proficiency in various other subjects including Philosophy, English, and History.
As time went by, Edison developed a method for self-education and started learning independently, a process that served him throughout his life.
At 12, Edison convinced his parents to allow him to sell newspapers, through which he gained access to worldwide events. He learned about emerging technology and had a constant appetite for new information.
Edison as a role model
Within a few years, Edison became proficient with technology and started experimenting as a full-time inventor and also contributed to several publications. He was incredibly dedicated and worked with undivided attention. As an independent entrepreneur, he formed numerous partnerships and developed products for the highest bidder. Edison is credited, to date, for helping build America’s economy during the nation’s most vulnerable years.
From a hyperactive kid to America’s leading businessman, Edison overcame many hurdles to become one of the most inspirational figures for individuals diagnosed within the Autism spectrum.
We hope this glimpse into the life of two exemplary figures inspires you to recognize your child’s talent and support them in achieving various milestones in life and excelling in their interests.
Do you have any stories you would like to share of individuals within the Autism Spectrum that have made a special impact on you? We would love to hear them. Do write to us in comments.