People with Asperger’s Syndrome are often described, as having social skills deficits, reluctance to listen, difficulty understanding social give and take, and other core characteristics, is typically quite misunderstood and/or misdiagnosed in our country today. First recognized by Hans Asperger in 1944, who recognized that the patterns of behaviors and characteristics were often noticed in the parents as well, most noticeably in the fathers, and he very perceptively noted, “that the condition was probably due to genetic or neurological, rather than psychological or environmental factors,” (Attwood, 2006, p. 2). Psychologists, physicians, educators, and parents remain largely uneducated and uninformed regarding high functioning autism and Asperger’s Syndrome, particularly in girls and women, and the person is often misdiagnosed (Fattig, 2007). “Asperger’s syndrome has probably been an important and valuable characteristic of our species throughout evolution,” (Attwood, 2006, p. 2).
The difficulty in understanding and acknowledging autism, primarily high functioning autism or Asperger’s Syndrome, by the medical, psychological, and psychiatric community, can lead to misdiagnosis and even failure to provide the services needed for students (Autism Today, 2007). Applying these characteristics to famous or historical figures, may allow a better understanding of the significant positive impact great Asperger’s ancestors have left behind towards an enlightened and improved society and world.
Albert Einstein provided the theory of relativity and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for the work he did with photoelectric effect. Characteristics, which may indicate that Einstein was a fellow Aspie: Einstein could not speak fluently at the age of nine (Botham, 2006, p. 16), language delays are common in children with high functioning autism. His parents suspected that he might actually be mentally retarded (Botham, 2006, p. 16). Often, children with Autism are labeled Mentally Retarded or Behaviorally Disordered. At the ceremony of induction as an American, Einstein attended without socks (Botham, 2006, p. 16). Children and adults with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome often have peculiar habits, extreme sensitivity to textures (Attwood, 2006, p. 3), and are often rated “high” on scales measuring atypicality, demonstrating odd behaviors, and seemingly lost in their own little world (Fattig, 2007). Frequently, children with Asperger’s struggle with finding socks that “feel right” or with a line at the toe that doesn’t not bother them.
Isaac Newton dropped out of school as a teenager (Botham, 2006, p. 15). A person with Asperger’s may not be able to accept rules in school if they appear illogical, pursuing a point or argument “as a matter of principle,” which can lead “to a significant conflict with teachers and school authorities,” (Attwood, 2006, p. 11).
Benjamin Franklin was considered to be one of the most important of the founding fathers of our country. He was a theorist, author, politician, scientist, activist, and diplomat. His scientific contributions included physics, discovery of electricity, and theories regarding electricity (Wikipedia, 2007). He was also the first head of the post office. Indicating the potential need for rigid rule and order, with sorting tendencies. “Benjamin Franklin’s peers did not give him the assignment of writing the Declaration of Independence because they feared that he would conceal a joke in it,” (Botham, 2006, pp. 17-18). Aspies are notorious for an extreme or different sense of humor.
Napoleon Bonaparte was reportedly afraid of cats, favored mathematicians or physical scientists, and tended to exclude humanists from his inner circle. He believed humanists were troublemakers. He also required his servants to wear his boots, breaking them in for him, before he would wear them (Botham, 2006, p. 17). Napoleon may have exhibited a social deficit, leaning towards others with similar intellectual and personality traits. He may have been preoccupied with perseverative or unfounded fears, with a hypersensitivity to textures on his feet or person.
George Washington, the first president of the United States of America. Aspie signs: George grew marijuana in his own garden (Botham, 2006, p. 2). Many adults with undiagnosed or misdiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome or Attention Deficit Disorder, self medicate in order to “soothe their restless brains and bodies,” (Richardson, 1998, p. 1). He was extremely terrified of being buried alive, therefore, he dictated that he be “laid out for three days just to be sure he was dead,” (Botham, 2006, p. 2). Perseverative fears and bizarre adherence to seemingly ineffectual rules or rituals are common in people with Asperger’s Syndrome and autism. People on the Aspie team, perceive or think about the world differently than others (Attwood, 2006, p. 2). George reportedly had to borrow money, in order to attend his own inauguration ceremonies (Botham, 2006, p. 2). Difficulties with money management, pack rack tendencies, and/or impulsively giving possessions away are common traits in the Aspie race (Fattig, 2007).
John Quincy Adams, also a president of the country, owned and kept a pet alligator in the East Room of the White House (Botham, 2006, p. 3). Again, atypicality is a common thread for our people (Fattig, 2007). He reportedly took his “last skinny dip in the Potomac on his seventy-ninth birthday,” (Botham, 2006, p. 3). No further comment needed.
Andrew Jackson maintained the belief that the world was flat (Botham, 2006, p. 3), indicating rigid concrete thinking, without the ability to see another’s perspective (Attwood, 2006, p. 2). May be he, too, was on our team?
Andrew Johnson taught himself tailoring, and made his own clothes and clothes for those in his cabinet (Botham, 2006, p. 3). Tailoring may have been a means of self-medicating the “gut wrenching feelings that accompany ADHD,” (Richardson, 1998) and Asperger’s Syndrome. Often, people with Asperger’s, like people with true ADHD, feel nervous or fidgety inside and cope through leg bouncing, gum chewing, crafting, knitting, steepling their fingers, knuckle popping and other behaviors (Garnett & Attwood, 1995).
Abraham Lincoln had a nervous breakdown, and before his election to the presidency in 1860, he lost eight other elections (Botham, 2006, p. 4). Asperger’s is often first misdiagnosed as depression, anxiety, bipolar, or a breakdown and running repeatedly for office may be indicative of perseveration, ritualistic need for routine even when it doesn’t appear to be working, and rigidity (Fattig, 2007). Also, Lincoln’s mother reportedly died after drinking milk from the family cow, after it ate poisonous mushrooms (Botham, 2006, p. 4). Not a sign or characteristic of Asperger’s, but weird nonetheless.
James Garfield was able to write in Latin with one hand, and in Greek with the other hand…at the same time (Botham, 2006, p. 4). Evidence of savant skills?
After being shot, Teddy Roosevelt refused to accept medical assistance, until after completing a speech he was delivering (Botham, 2006, p. 4). Rigidity of rule and routine, with a touch of obsessive-compulsive behaviors? He also wrote 37 books (Botham, 2006, p. 4). Repetitive, stereotypical behaviors with perseverative tendencies perhaps?
William Taft got stuck in his bathtub on the day of his Inauguration, and “had to be pried out by his attendants,” (Botham, 2006, p. 5). Eating disorders are often a part of Asperger’s Syndrome and autism. Hyper reactivity to gustatory, olfactory, or textural can lead to under eating, refusal to eat all but just one or two foods, or malnourishment. Hypo reactivity to gustatory or vestibular, can lead to bored eating, compensatory eating, comfort eating, and obesity. “Unfortunately, professionals as well as concerned family members and friends mistakenly blame parents of children with autism spectrum disorders for their child’s poor eating habits. Sometimes parents’ concerns are ignored and they are told not to worry since most children go through stages of picky eating and food fads,” (Wheeler, 2004, p. 1).
Harry Truman’s middle name remained just an S, because “his parents could not decide between two different names beginning with S,” (Botham, 2006, p. 6). Although not technically associating characteristics to Harry himself, parents of children with Asperger’s frequently exhibit characteristics as well. The core characteristics of Asperger’s Syndrome include limited or restricted social awareness and understanding; difficulty or inability to maintain reciprocity or give and take conversationally; and intense or restricted interest in a subject (Attwood, 2006, p. 2).
Royalty with Asperger’s Characteristics
Louis IV, who was the kind of France, reportedly had a stomach that was twice the size of a normal stomach, and he only bathed one time a year (Botham, 2006, p. 10). Hygiene issues and failure to acknowledge or dress in trendy fashions can be notoriously difficult for people with Asperger’s, especially those with extremely high IQ’s and a hyper reactive olfactory response. Soaps and perfumes can be overwhelming to their olfactory system.
“Catherine the Great relaxed by being tickled,” (Botham, 2006, p. 10) which could be a result of the characteristic sensation seeking of light to moderate touch, of those Apies with Hypo reactivity to touch or proprioceptive feedback.
Reportedly, Cleopatra and other female Egyptian rulers wore a fake beard (Botham, 2006, p. 11). In our brains, neurons are the transmitters for perception, thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Research has demonstrated “massive neurological effects” hormones can have on females during the different stages of life and maturation (Brizendine, 2006, p. 3). Females are considered to be superior in empathy skills and males are traditionally found to be superior systemizers. If a woman with autism is better at systemizing, with extreme attention to detail, and less compelled to demonstrate typically ‘female characteristics’ in relationships (e.g., valuing altruistic, reciprocal relationships, cooperative engagement, strong friendship bonds, nurturing, and smoothing or resisting conflict); but rather favors task specific activities, aggression, solitary activities, or other “male characteristic” behaviors, (Baron-Cohen, 2002, p. 2), she may become ostracized, envied, or socially isolated. This emotional “maleness” may lead to relational conflicts and a lack of intimate relationships, gender confusion, wanting to dress like the opposite sex, or become the opposite sex.
Peter the Great reportedly killed his wife’s lover, and then “forced her to keep her lover’s head in a jar of alcohol in her bedroom,” (Botham, 2006, p. 11). Excessive and unpredictable moods, irrational outbursts, or tantrums are not uncommon in people on the spectrum.
Wilhem II reportedly had a withered arm, that he often hid by posing with it resting on a sword or holding a glove (Botham, 2006, p. 11). People with Asperger’s become masters of masking our differences.
Alexander the Great experienced seizure disorder (Botham, 2006, p. 11). Seizure disorder is present in a percentage of people with autism.
Leonardo da Vinci took twelve years to paint the Mona Lisa’ lips, and could write with one hand while drawing with the other (Botham, 2006, p. 13). Perfectionistic tendencies, with moderate cross over discrimination deficits, and savant skills?
Vincent van Gogh committed suicide (Botham, 2006, p. 14). Depression sometimes accompanies people with Asperger’s and in extreme cases can lead to thoughts, talk of, or suicide attempts (Attwood, 2006, p. 15).
Beethoven was such a poor music student, that his music teachers decided he was hopeless as a composer and each time he sat to write music, he reportedly “poured ice water over his head,” (Botham, 2006, p. 30), indicating the potential inability to “show” what he could do and a potential preoccupation of sensory experiences (Attwood, 2006, p. 4), or need for unproductive idiosyncratic routine.
Elvis was a notorious over eater, failed his music class in school, never ever gave an encore, and had ten distinctly different drugs in his body when he died (Botham, 2006, p. 34). He may have been compulsive with food/sensory perseverations, school failures, rigid need for routine and control, and self-medicating?
Jeremy Bentham left his estate to a London Hospital, so long as they allowed his body to continue to preside over board meetings. “His skeleton was clothed and fitted with a wax mask of his face. It was present at the meeting for ninety-two years and can still be viewed there,” (Botham, 2006, p. 15). People with Asperger’s can maintain vivid or complex imaginary worlds, often with imaginary friends (Attwood, 2006, p. 15).
Socrates committed suicide (Botham, 2006, p. 16), indicating potential depression stemming from difficulties with understanding social conventions, a development of “compensatory thoughts and attitudes for feeling alienated, socially isolated and not understood,” (Attwood, 2006, p. 14). The suicide rate in people with Asperger’s is higher than that of the neurotypical population.
Henry Ford reportedly believed history to be bunk, and he firmly believed in reincarnation (Botham, 2006, p. 18). Concrete thinker without the ability to understand or tolerate another perspective, rigid belief system?
Bill Gates has long been suspected of demonstrated Aspie traits, and where would we be without his contributions? His first business, Traff-O-Data, involved the creation of a machine recording the number of cars passing a point on a road (Botham, 2006, p. 18).
Robin Williams was voted least likely to succeed in high school (Botham, 2006, p. 27). People with Asperger’s are noted to have “an unusual prosody” affecting tone, rhythm, pitch, and speed of speech. And egocentric preoccupation dominates their thoughts, and they often need more assistance in self-help skills and organization (Attwood, 2006, p. 3). Kindergarten through 12th grade is particularly difficult for our team, and we often can not “show” who we are or what we can do, until post high school education.
Tom Hanks is reportedly related to Abraham Lincoln (Botham, 2006, p. 22), and genetic ties are strong in our people (see above regarding Abe Lincoln).
Marilyn Monroe had a history of emotional instability, depression, and suicide.
Clark Gable used to take more than four showers a day (Botham, 2006, p. 26), indicating potential obsessive-compulsive characteristics, frequent in the Aspie population.
“Every episode of Seinfeld contains a Superman reference somewhere,” (Botham, 2006, p. 40). I will say no more.
Author, Virginia Woolf, would only write her books when standing (Botham, 2006, p. 59), and she suffered from depression, social isolation, and eccentricities.
Shakespeare reportedly spelled his own name in several different ways (Botham, 2006, p. 60). Hans Christian Anderson was word blind and he never learned to spell correctly (Botham, 2006, p. 61). Written language difficulties often accompany Asperger’s Syndrome and ADD/ADHD.
Goethe reportedly hated the sound of barking dogs (Botham, 2006, p. 60), which could indicate hyperactivity to sound or noises; and he “could only write if he had an apple rotting in the desk drawer,” (Botham, 2006, p. 60).
Isaac Asimov has a book included in each Dewey decimal category (Botham, 2006, p. 61), which could indicate compulsivity or perseverative need for control or ritual.
The novel, Gatsby, written by Ernest Vincent Wright, has a word count of fifty thousand with no word containing the letter e (Botham, 2006, p. 60). Phobic?
Charles Dickinson dropped out of school and suffered from insomnia. He believed that if his bed was facing north, and he was in the center, he might be able to sleep (Botham, 2006, p. 61). Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, nightmares or night terrors, is common in people with Asperger’s. Creating odd rituals and routines as a coping mechanism is also frequent in our people.
Without Asperger’s, Where would we be?
Many children, who are diagnosed at a very young age with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), may in fact have Asperger’s Syndrome (Brunett & Williams, 2005). Asperger’s Syndrome is typically characterized by average to above average intelligence, poor social communication, poor social skills, lack of eye contact, rigid need for rules and routine, anxiety and/or depression, pedantic speech, sensory processing difficulty, and perseverative thought processes. Persons with high functioning autism or Asperger’s tend to rely heavily on rigid internal rules and struggle with the unwritten social rules of social interaction. Failure accompanies a student with AS, like a close companion, and we may need much reassurance during stressful periods. A psychologist, and friend, stated, “You have to remind them that for every criticism, it can take upwards of hundreds of complimentary comments to undo the extreme embarrassment or humiliation,” (Caton, 2007).

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Author's Bio: 

Author of the Annie Books Series: Experience Asperger's Syndrome and Attention Deficits Through the Eyes of a Child, Michelle is a school psychologist and medical technologist, who volunteers as a parent advocate, and provides professional development to parents and educators, regarding Individuals with Disabilites Education Act (IDEA), Improving Learning for Children with Disabilities (ILCD), Hidden Disabilities, and Response to Intervention (RTI). She is a proud veteran of the Air Force and previous school board member. Michelle has Asperger's Syndrome, Attention Deficit with Hyperactivity Disorder, and learning disabilities. She is a doctoral candidate in Education Leadership.