Susan Boyle has disclosed recently that she has a form of autism known as Asperger’s syndrome. She reportedly received this diagnosis about a year ago along with the news of her above average IQ and says she was relieved to have a name to put to the condition that has been with her all her life.
Boyle describes being bullied as a child and having learning difficulties as a student. She reports that some of the hallmarks of the disorder that she experiences are difficulties with relationships and communication. She is hopeful that in addition to providing her with peace of mind, the awareness of the diagnosis will allow others to better understand her as well.
The beloved singer rose to fame after an unexpectedly angelic rendition of the song I Dreamed a Dream of Les Miserables fame on the show Britain’s Got Talent back in 2009. Since that performance, she has gone on to sell over $14 million albums. The 52-year-old Scottish church volunteer is known for her shyness and has struggled periodically with her fame. Perhaps the knowledge that Boyle has Asperger’s syndrome offers some explanation of those struggles.
Boyle is not the first famous person speculated to have Asperger’s syndrome. Although it is a modern diagnosis, many doctors and historians have looked back over the course of history and come up with an impressive list of historical figures who may have had Asperger’s as well. Legendary political figures including Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and George Washington have all been included among those who are likely to have been diagnosed with Asperger’s in modern times.
A number of revolutionary scientists make the list as well, none more famous than Albert Einstein, author of the theory of relativity, himself. Other scientists such as Nobel Prize winner Marie Curie, astronomer Carl Sagan, renowned geneticist Gregor Mendel and Charles Darwin, the father of evolutionary theory, are speculated to have had Asperger’s as well.
Asperger’s syndrome is considered a part of the spectrum of autistic disorders. It is characterized by communication difficulties, such as a failure to recognize nonverbal and social cues in the course of conversation; and unusual nonverbal behaviors, such as difficulty maintaining eye contact or seemingly inappropriate facial expressions. Other common communication effects of Asperger’s syndrome include speaking in a fast or monotone voice, a preoccupation with one particular subject and a tendency to be very literal. Relational difficulties may arise as a result of these challenges in being able to read others and communicate effectively. Another common symptom of Asperger’s is general clumsiness or having poor coordination.
A diagnosis of Asperger’s that doesn’t occur until adulthood, such as that acknowledged by Boyle, is not all that uncommon. Asperger’s syndrome is often referred to as the mildest or least severe form of autism; and, therefore, may go undetected for years. Further, the specific diagnosis of Asperger’s was not officially included as a part of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders until 1994, leaving many wondering just what exactly was to account for the difficulties they experienced throughout their lives.
By Michele Wessel