Page last updated at 17:26 GMT, Thursday, 8 January 2004

Brilliant minds linked to autism

Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol: Obsessed by collecting

Historical figures including Socrates, Charles Darwin, and Andy Warhol probably had a form of autism, says a leading specialist.

Professor Michael Fitzgerald, of Dublin's Trinity College believes they showed signs of Asperger's syndrome.

Scientific geniuses Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein have also been previously linked to the condition.

Asperger's is associated with poor social skills, and obsessions with complex topics such as music.

It proves that we should accept eccentrics and be tolerant of them.
Professor Michael Fitzgerald

However, people with the condition are often bright, and have above average verbal skills.

Professor Fitzgerald said the number of people being diagnosed with Asperger's had significantly increased as doctors had become more aware of the condition.

He came to his conclusion after comparing the behaviour of his patients with that described in the biographies of the famous.

He believes the author Lewis Carroll, the poet W.B. Yeats and former Irish prime minister Eamon de Valera also showed signs of autism disorders.

He said: "Asperger's syndrome provides a plus - it makes people more creative.

"People with it are generally hyper-focused, very persistent workaholics who tend to see things from detail to global rather than looking at the bigger picture first and then working backwards, as most people do.

The case of Yeats

Eamon De Valera
Eamon De Valera: A single-minded politician

"Yeats for example, had problems with reading and writing and did very poorly at school.

"He failed to get into Trinity College and was described by his teachers as 'pedestrian and demoralised'. His parents were told he would never amount to anything.

"This is typical of people with the condition. They don't fit in, are odd and eccentric and relate poorly with others. Most are bullied at school, as Yeats was."

And yet, said the professor, Yeats went on to prove that he had a hugely vivid imagination while remaining socially aloof - both classic signs of Asperger's.

Strange behaviour

Warhol's unusual behaviour, his odd relationships and his distinctive art also strongly suggested that he had the condition, said Professor Fitzgerald.

Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin: Revolutionary theories

"He was a massive collector of articles, but didn't even take them out of the packaging - his house was like a mausoleum - and he had the same difficulties at school."

Professor Fitzgerald said the success of such high profile figures gave hope to people whose lives were touched by Asperger's syndrome.

"It proves that we should accept eccentrics and be tolerant of them," he said.

"The nation is pushed forward by engineers, mathematicians and scientists."

The claims are made in Prof Fitzgerald's new book: In Autism and Creativity: Is There a Link Between Autism in Men and Exceptional Ability?

Einstein and Newton 'had autism'
30 Apr 03 |  Health
Asperger syndrome
25 Aug 09 |  Health

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