The Link Between Autism and Genius by Alex Schaffer

In a recent study by Yale University, it was discovered that child prodigies like Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein scored high in autistic traits, in addition to having very high IQs. Some of these prodigies boasted enormous skill in science, mathematics, music, art, chess and molecular gastronomy.

These traits include elevated working memory scores and extreme attention to detail. The study suggests that “This result raises the possibility of a moderated autism that actually enables the prodigies’ extraordinary talent.” Many people don’t know that nearly every genius in history showed signs of autism.

Which famous geniuses had autism?

The most notable are Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein according to autism expert Simon Baron-Cohen of Cambridge University and Loan James, a mathematician of Oxford University. After gathering robust data, they concluded that both Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein had autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or Asperger syndrome.

While it is difficult to assign diagnoses to the deceased, there are many similar traits between people like Newton, Einstein and others.

Baron-Cohen assigned three key traits: difficulty with communication, difficulty in relationships and an obsessive interest. Another common trait among both adults and children with ASD is difficulty staying or falling sleep.

Some other notable people sharing these traits were authors Lewis Carol and Emily Dickenson, along with inventor Nikola Tesla and musician Mozart. Today, individuals exhibiting these traits are making history as we speak.

We can attribute the success of Bill Gates, the mastermind of a technology empire, to also being on the autism spectrum with Asperger’s syndrome. Another autistic individual to make history is chess champion Magmus Carlson.

Autism, savant syndrome and Asperger syndrome

One of the most important things to understand about autism is how broad of a term it can actually be. It’s easy to lump all people with ASD into one category, but each individual is very different.

The resource, Autism Speaks defines autism or ASD “as [a] broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication.” Many autistic individuals are characterized by having learning disabilities and developmental delays, even making the symptoms very difficult to manage.

Savant Syndrome
Some autistic people may become savants in a specific field. According to Psychology Today “Autistic savants are people who suffer from a developmental disability yet demonstrate some cognitive ability, exceeding what most people can do. These abilities may involve art, music, arithmetic, spatial skills, or calendar abilities—where the savant can determine what day of the week some date is with speed and accuracy.”

Asperger’s and Genius
In the 1940s Asperger’s Syndrome was identified by Hans Asperger as a group within the autism spectrum in which children show more obsessive interests and fewer speech delays. The difference between Asperger syndrome and Savant syndrome is that they not only have developed exceptional skill in one area but are highly intelligent as well. Many famous geniuses are thought to have Asperger’s, which may have actually contributed to their excellence in fields like math, science, music and literary arts.

Are Geniuses antisocial?

There’s a vision we can all invoke of the genius. It’s of a person working furiously alone in a laboratory or library, blocking out the rest of the world. A person who is always one second away from a major breakthrough, and their study is all encompassing.

One trait of ASD is an ability to block out other people, while focusing heavily on complicated tasks. This single-minded focus, while limiting autistic people socially can actually enhance their ability to achieve great things. Nigel Barber, Ph.D., describes autistic chess champion Magmus Carlson as someone “who tunes into talent but tunes out other people.”

Obsessiveness and Attention to detail

The talent of the genius with autism is also attributed to an abnormal attention to detail, and obsessiveness. A term called hyper-systemizing is a phenomenon where organization of a person’s surroundings can be taken to an extreme degree. This in combination with narrow, intense focus can lead the individual to genius.

Bill gates would code for hours on end while developing Microsoft and even said “Some of the more prudish people would say ‘Go home and take a shower.’ We were just hard-core, writing code.” Many people think the autistic geniuses’ behavior to be extreme, but they’re usually working towards something great.

If the world didn’t have these creative giants who knows where the fields of mathematics, science, arts and modern technology would be. We can attribute many of mankind’s prized achievements to the unique traits found in autistic individuals.