As part of our CelebMix Cares initiative, every month we will be highlighting a certain charity or cause to provide information and awareness. Throughout April, we will be focussing on autism, helping people to banish any misconceptions and also to provide a further understanding of the condition.
It may surprise you to know that autism is far more common than you think – for example, according to The National Autistic Society, around 700,000 people in the UK live with autism, which is more than 1 in 100 people.
It is, therefore, no wonder that a host of famous faces have been diagnosed as autistic or display some of the common traits associated with the syndrome. Here’s a look at 10 celebrities who fall on the autistic spectrum.
1. James Durbin
Former American Idol contestant James Durbin was diagnosed with Tourette and Asperger’s Syndrome (a high functioning form of autism) when he was a child. He may not have won American Idol, but following his time on the show, he has become an idol in his own right for those who suffer a similar condition and has raised awareness on a large scale. Since then, he has also appeared in a documentary called Different is the New Normal where he met Ariel, who suffers from uncontrollable tics thanks to her Tourette’s. The documentary focuses on Ariel’s attempts to overcome the syndrome.
2. Daryl Hannah
Actress Daryl Hannah revealed in 2003 that she is autistic. She was diagnosed as a child and suffered from “debilitating shyness.” In an interview with People magazine, Hannah said, “I wasted so much time scared, self-conscious and insecure.” In times when her shyness was painful, Hannah used to rock herself back and forth to soothe herself. Her shyness affected her so much that doctors wanted to institutionalise her but her mother refused. Whilst Hannah is still affected by autism, she stated, “life is too short to stress the small things anymore.”
3. Tim Burton
Director Tim Burton has never had a formal diagnosis, however, believes that he may have Asperger’s or falls on the spectrum. His former wife, actress Helena Bonham Carter, was doing research for a role in a TV drama where she would be playing the mother of autistic boys. That is when she recognised some of the traits in Tim, particularly when he said that he could relate to them as a child. In an interview, she said, “People with Asperger’s Syndrome have application and dedication. You can say something to Tim when he’s working and he doesn’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 don’t see.”
4. Stanley Kubrick
Stanley Kubrick was born in 1928, long before autism was formally recognised and given a name. However, Dr. Michael Fitzgerald and co-writer Viktoria Lyons have given Kubrick a diagnosis in retrospect. A retrospective diagnosis is the practice of identifying a condition in a historical figure using modern knowledge, methods and medical classifications. The pair discussed Kubrick in their book Asperger Syndrome: A Gift or A Curse? and came to the conclusion that he did indeed fit on the autism spectrum. A few of the traits Kubrick displayed were poor social skills, narrow and obsessive interests, lack of empathy and inflexibility. However his work ethic, attention to detail and perfectionism were second to none, allowing him to become an extremely successful filmmaker.
5. Heather Kuzmich
Heather Kuzmich is an American fashion model, best known for being a contestant on America’s Next Top Model. Kuzmich was diagnosed with Asperger’s when she was 15 years old and also suffers from ADHD. She notes being socially awkward, approaching people, communication skills and being nit picky as some of her autistic traits. Kuzmich has appeared on the cover of Spectrum Magazine which is a magazine for individuals and families who have autism.
6. Owl City
Adam Young, also known as Owl City, has Asperger’s. He 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 to speak on 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.
7. Dan Aykroyd
Actor Dan Aykroyd was diagnosed with Tourette’s when he was 12 years old. He suffered from physical tics, nervousness and made grunting noises which affected him socially. He also has Asperger’s, which wasn’t diagnosed until the early Eighties. In an interview with The Daily Mail in 2013, Aykroyd credited his Asperger’s for giving him the inspiration for the film Ghostbusters. He said “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.”
Pip Brown, better known as singer Ladyhawke, has Asperger’s. In an interview, Ladyhawke said “people shouldn’t be scared of it or anything. Some people don’t even realise that they have it. I went through my whole life not knowing until only a few years ago, when it was just doing my head in and I had to get help.” Ladyhawke suffers from crippling nerves and hated physical contact. She told The Independent how she once locked herself in her house for three months, which is when she decided that she needed to get help.
Now she uses her illness to push her creativity, with autobiographical lyrics such as “I take a pill to help me through the day/ I stay inside until I feel okay.” In a second interview with The Independent in 2012, Ladyhawke acknowledged that music helps her with her condition. She said “a lot of people say, ‘why do you do this if you’re so anxious and it’s so hard for you?’ Because I love it so much, making the music. The other stuff that comes with it is a small hurdle in the grand scheme of things.”
9. Andy Warhol
As an artist, Andy Warhol had a love of repetition. ‘Campbell’s Soup Cans’ is one of his most recognised works of art and was always believed to be his response to popular culture. However, there is growing evidence that his love of repetition was, in fact, a symptom of autism. In a paper submitted to the National Autistic Society, his social ineptitude, care to use the minimum of words in speech, difficulty recognising friends and obsession with the uniformity of consumer goods were all signs suggesting that Warhol was autistic.
Judith Gould, director of Eliot House, Britain’s leading diagnostic centre for autism, believes that Warhol almost certainly had Asperger Syndrome, and also believes that higher functioning forms of autism are often associated with prodigious talent and even with artistic genius. Dr. Michael Fitzgerald, who gave Stanley Kubrick a respective diagnosis, also believes Warhol that had Asperger’s. Other figures believed to have been on the autistic spectrum include Mozart, Michaelangelo, Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton.
10. Susan Boyle
Singer Susan Boyle rose to fame on Britain’s Got Talent in 2009, finishing in second place. Boyle spent years believing that she suffered slight brain damage at birth. Speaking to The Observer, she said: “It was the wrong diagnosis when I was a kid. 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.”
Boyle has difficulty communicating, meaning that her behaviour can sometimes become erratic. She told The Daily Mail, “If I feel I’m going to take a mood swing, I get up and leave. That’s what I did today. I’ve learned that it’s the only way. And other people have learned that they have to just ignore me. That way I have no one to rant and rave at.’ What does it feel like when the hood comes down? ‘I feel a sense of panic, not wanting to be there. I get depressed. I just go away, be myself. Then I come back to you. I always come back.”
Following Boyle’s diagnosis, the National Autistic Society Scotland warned that there is an “invisible generation” of older people with autism. Often associated with children, it is estimated that 1 in 5 people with autism are in fact 60+.
It is remarkable how many people live with autism or perhaps go undiagnosed for so long. It is, therefore, vital to raise awareness of the condition in order to enable a quicker diagnosis and provide better support for those who need it. At least one in three autistic adults experience severe mental health difficulties due to a lack of support given to them. Whilst Autism is incurable, the right support can make a big difference to the lives of those affected.
For more information about autism, please check out the following websites.
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