Is There Genius in Autism?
A leading psychiatrist from Trinity College in Dublin, Michael Fitzgerald, has put forth the idea that many leading figures in the fields of science, politics and the arts achieved success because they had a form of autism known as Asperger's syndrome. Included in his list are such towering figures as Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, George Orwell, H G Wells and Ludwig van Beethoven.
Prof Fitzgerald argues that the link between Asperger's, creativity and genius is caused by common genetic causes. His ideas are in keeping with a theme that has regularly been raised over the years; namely, that "psychiatric disorders can also have positive dimensions."
In particular, he proposed that multiple genes, varying from individual to individual, produce people who show the following constellation: highly focused, don't fit into the school system, often have poor social relationships and eye contact. They can be quite oppositional, and usually highly moral and ethical.
Part of their strength comes from the fact that "they can persist with a topic for 20-30 years without being distracted by what other people think. And they can produce in one lifetime the work of three or four other people."
As examples, he cites Isaac Newton who was known to work non-stop for three days without recognizing day or night, often forgetting to eat, and Einstein who had to work in a patent office because he was too disruptive to get a university job.
Fitzgerald has stated his ideas at length in his book "Genius Genes: How Asperger Talents Changed the World" published at the end of last year, http://www.amazon.com/Genius-Genes-Asperger-Talents-Changed/dp/1931282447
Professor Fitzgerald's ideas fit in with the growing recognition that the range of autistic conditions is not confined to limitations--but rather is often accompanied by unusual strengths. For those of us interested in reading, one of those strengths is a condition known as hyperlexia. This term refers to the fact that the children, without any need for teaching or formal instruction, are superb at decoding the words on the printed page. The results can be amazing--such as a four year old I met who could fluently read the New York Times. But more about that another time.