In honour of Autism Awareness month in April, itâ€™s timely to celebrate individuals on the autistic spectrum, including those who have found fame while living with the disorder. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a cluster of neurodevelopmental disabilities that affects social interaction, behaviour, communication, and interests. While there is no cure for autism, these celebrated individuals have coped with their autism in the limelight.
1. Tim Burton
As a child, the director of Edward Scissorhands and Nightmare Before Christmas was something of a hermit. He was an introspective boy who had trouble interacting with others. Although he was never formerly diagnosed, ex-wife Helena Bonham Carter says he probably has Aspergers, a form of autism.
She says: â€œWe were watching a documentary about autism and he said thatâ€™s how he felt as a childâ€¦ You can say something to Tim when heâ€™s working and he doesnâ€™t hear you. But that quality also makes him a fantastic father; he has an amazing sense of humour and imagination. He sees things other people donâ€™t see.â€
2. Temple Grandin
A renowned advocate for the autistic community, Grandin was played by Claire Danes in a 2010 biopic. Grandin was diagnosed at 2 with â€œbrain damageâ€, with doctors recommending institutionalisation (this was the norm in the United States back in the 1950s). Her mother refused, taking her daughter to the best specialists for treatment.
Now a professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University, she has written several books on autism, sharing her insight and personal experience. â€œThe thing about being autistic is that you gradually get less and less autistic, because you keep learning, you keep learning how to behave. Itâ€™s like being in a play; Iâ€™m always in a play,â€ she says.
3. Dan Aykroyd
Aykroyd, the quirky comic of Ghostbusters fame, has Aspergers. He has suffered from Tourette Syndrome and has shown signs of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
He told Britainâ€™s Daily Mail in 2013 that he credits his Aspergers for the creation of Ghostbusters: â€œOne of my symptoms included my obsession with ghosts and law enforcement â€“ I carry around a police badge with me, for example. I became obsessed with Hans Holzer, the greatest ghost hunter ever. Thatâ€™s when the idea of my film Ghostbusters was born.â€
4. Daryl Hannah
Daryl Hannah of Wall Street fame was diagnosed with autism as a child. She says she never disclosed her disorder to movie producers.
The Wall Street actress has made her mark on the movies, but she made even bigger headlines when she revealed to People magazine in 2013 that she was autistic. Diagnosed as a child, she says her autism left her so cripplingly shy that public events were a nightmare.
She leads a quieter life now, confessing that, â€œGoing to the Academy Awards was so painful for me. Iâ€™d almost faint just walking down the red carpet. I was so socially awkward and uncomfortable that I eventually got blacklisted.â€
5. Susan Boyle
While the Scotswoman wowed the world with her voice, she secretly battled with what was misdiagnosed as â€œbrain damageâ€ in her childhood. Growing up, she was bullied for being odd and strange.
It wasnâ€™t until she was in her early fifties that she was correctly diagnosed with Aspergers. Of the diagnosis, she told The Observer, UK: â€œI was told I had brain damage. I always knew it was an unfair label. Now I have a clearer understanding of whatâ€™s wrong and I feel relieved and a bit more relaxed about myself.â€