The Gift of Autism

‘Autism’ – a term which, even today, not many people are familiar with. I myself became aware of it just over a year ago. My knowledge of autism is what I have seen on television or over the internet. My first reaction was that of sympathy. But talking to people who have actually spent time with autistic people has changed my perspective. Although not many adults with autism can live independently, that hasn’t stopped them from achieving success.

We are going to discuss about some of these success stories. Particularly three of my all-time favourites. But before we begin, let’s take a minute to look at what autism is:

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder. It alters the connection between nerve cells and their synapses, affecting the way the brain processes information. There are several conditions which can be categorised under Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Most prominent among them is Asperger’s syndrome.

Since information is processed differently in the brain, autistic people do not behave in the same way as others. While some of their senses are impaired, others may be normal or even superior to normal folk.

In spite of their difficulties the following people have achieved great things in life:

The Maestro

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was a prodigious child. Later in his life he was known to be quite the man. Two characteristics were very prominent about him. He had repeated facial expressions and hand movements (which Tom Hulce brilliantly portrayed in Amadeus). He was also known to be very eccentric. By studying the letters written by Mozart and his family to each other, historians have deduced that there was a very high probability that Mozart may have been autistic. Although he did die young and in poverty, the existence of his music to this day is a testament to his genius. In a way, he was successful.

The Grand Master

People who knew Stanley Kubrick say that he was a recluse, had poor social skills, was impulsive and inflexible, had very lateral thinking and many other such traits which were all signs of a person suffering from Asperger’s. His iconic movies were more or less a projection of himself. But if ASD was the reason he was who he was, then it was not a bane but gift to both himself and the artistic world.

The Devotee

Kubrick had a profound influence on many movie makers. But the one that stands out, the one whose work has echoes of the genius himself is Tim Burton. Burton has paid homage to Kubrick through many of his movies. But this may not be the only relation Burton has with the Grand Master. While researching for a film, Burton’s actress wife, Helena Bonham Carter, discovered that many of his traits were in line with symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome. If people with ASD are that talented, I don’t understand why it is still considered a disorder.

The Chanteuse Supreme

If there were ever a power couple to replace John Lennon and Yoko Ono, it had to be Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love. The Nirvana and Hole lead singers were said to have adored each other and Kurt’s death devastated Courtney. But just like she did with autism in her childhood, she dealt with it to carry on her dignified life as a single mother. Due to her autism, she had poor social skills and very few friends. But it moulded her into a strong willed and confident person she is today.

The Yesteryear Beauty

As the sword wielding, butt-kicking villain in Kill Bill and the gorgeous mermaid in Splash, Daryl Hannah won many admirers. This beautiful lady has tackled Autism all her life, having been constantly teased and picked on as a teenager. Doctors even suggested that she join an institution. But Daryl’s mother had other ideas. She didn’t want to be separated from her daughter and didn’t believe she was sick. She pulled her out of public school, home schooled her and made her the person she is today.

Like Daryl’s mom, many people are campaigning for autism to be accepted as a difference and not a disorder. Many parents these days home school their children with love and patience. This gradual learning has helped numerous autistic people socialize with others and lead as normal a life as possible.

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