Welcome to the fourth part of our seven-part series on behalf of Autism Awareness Week, where we dive deep into the fountain of knowledge to divulge the mystifying secrets of autism… basically put a spin on autism that could considered the zany cousin of Wikipedia.
For some people growing up with autism, there is always that niggling little doubt as to whether you are actually going to achieve something with your life, or whether autism is going to be this great weight holding you back. If you want some reassurance and inspiration, look no further than these four remarkable autistics who have managed to not only survive, but thrive. Fame doesn’t come with a normality clause…
Temple Grandin – Whereas for a lot of famous people, autism just happens to be something they have, some people make autism the centre of their work, as is the case for Temple Grandin. An American professor of animal science, Temple Grandin was bought up in a time where autism was only known in limited circles, and never received a formal diagnosis until her 40s. The only label she got from the doctors was ‘brain damage’ at the age of 2. Nice vote of confidence(!)
Grandin had a difficult education, having been expelled from school when she was 14, so her mother placed her in a boarding school where she met William Carlock, a science teacher and former NASA employee, who did wonders for Grandin’s self-confidence. While at college, she would go on to invent, the ‘hug box’, a device used to calm people on the autism spectrum. Later, the girl who had been diagnosed as brain damaged would earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Psychology, a Master’s Degree in Animal Science and a Doctoral Degree in Animal Science. Grandin has had a successful academic career, acting as a consultant on the livestock industry on animal behavior, while publishing several books offering an in-depth understanding of autism. Her remarkable journey was later documented in the 2010 biopic Temple Grandin, starring Claire Danes as Grandin.
Daryl Hannah – The American actress has had a varied career spanning nearly four decades, playing extraordinary, larger-than-life characters, including an emotionally complex android in the iconic sci-fi film Blade Runner and a mermaid in the 1984 film Splash. Perhaps her most iconic role to recent generations is her role as the psychotic, cycloptic assassin Elle Driver in Quentin Tarantino’s 2003-2004 two part revenge flick Kill Bill. Outside the acting stratosphere, she is also a passionate environmentalist, partaking in several protests and documenting her efforts via her blog DHLoveLife.
Hannah was diagnosed with autism as a child, with some traits including needing to rock for self-soothing and public events were very much the bane of her life. Even worse, medical professionals had recommended that she be medicated and institutionalized. We’re not exactly talking the pillars of knowledge here. But evidently, Hannah has gone on to lead an expansive career and if her activist work is anything to go by, public events are a demon she has successfully conquered.
Susan Boyle – Let’s be honest, while we may enjoy Simon Cowell’s seemingly endless witticisms, these talent shows are where dreams often go to be broken. But Susan Boyle was one dreamer whose dreams were fulfilled. Having spent years as a carer for her elderly mother, the Scottish singer shot to fame with her soulful rendition of Les Miserables’ ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ in 2009 during the third season of Britain’s Got Talent, and by God, she definitely had it. She would later go on to release a string of albums before being diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome in 2012 at the age of 51. Ironically, Susan had been misdiagnosed at birth and had carried the label ‘brain damaged’, so the eventual Asperger’s diagnosis came as quite a relief. She was once quoted in the Guardian as saying, “It will not make any difference to my life. It’s just a condition I have to live and work through.” For any autistic who has ever dreamed of singing, look no further than this magnificent woman for inspiration.
Paddy Considine – Whenever someone tells me they aren’t familiar with the works of Paddy Considine, I find myself utterly flabbergasted. He is perhaps one of the most versatile British actors working in film and television. He has had supporting roles in films such as Hot Fuzz, The Bourne Ultimatum, and The World’s End, but his greatest performance is arguably his leading role in Shane Meadows’ 2004 crime drama Dead Man’s Shoes, where his portrayal of a vigilante was a brilliant balance of psychotic and empathic. In 2011, he also wrote and directed his first feature film, Tyrannosaur. The film is emotionally draining, but a brilliantly-crafted debut that ultimately saw Considine win a well-deserved BAFTA for his efforts.
2011 was also the year Considine was revealed to have been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. Despite being diagnosed in his mid-30s, he felt like he had lived in fear every day of his life, acting like a normal person on the outside, and indeed, his diverse filmography was a major coping mechanism for him. But naming the condition has helped him make sense of many things in his life he didn’t understand before. A diverse actor, a brilliant director and a devoted family man, Paddy Considine is an inspiration to all autistics, showing that even when playing ‘the normal man’ you can still get by by being yourself.
Now, there are many historical individuals who may fit the profile of autism – in most cases, noted eccentrics – but seeing autism wasn’t rolled out as a major diagnosis until the 1940s, we’re reliant on that unreliable source known as guesswork.
Now, I’m not going to say that autism is the reason these people have found success. But as you can see, it certainly hasn’t limited them in any way. Autism is not – and should not – be seen as some neurobiological buffer that stops you from going out and achieving something for yourself. Who knows, years from now, we could have a plethora of icons looking back on their early years and I guarantee you, whoever those people will be, I guarantee autism will have shaped their lives and experiences in some way.
If you have enjoyed this blog, check out the other articles in the Autism Awareness Week series!