According to the Autism Resource Centre (Singapore), autism has been estimated to impact 50,000 individuals in our population of 5 million of which 11,500 are estimated to be under the age of 19. Autism impacts all, regardless of ethnicity, socioeconomic status and earning power.
Given the unique constellations of signs of autism, the world can feel like a lonely place for those impacted with it.
However, one common autism trait is restricted interests. This is a form of restrictive behaviour where an individual with autism can have an immense passion towards a certain topic or area. While people without autism often have a range of interests and can easily switch focus from one activity to another, people with autism may have a limited and narrow range of interests. By being able to focus and maintain one core interest for years or even for most of one’s life, the person with autism can use this interest to accomplish great things.
Let's look at some famous people with autism that have achieved success in their fields.
1. Dan Aykroyd: Actor and Film Writer
Actor and Film writer, Dan Aykroyd is a popular artist that thrives with the diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism that affects social skills. In his early years, Dan Aykroyd was expelled from two different schools before he was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. Since then, he has been vocal in sharing his experiences in living with autism and has even spoken to great extent about how his experiences with autism contributed to his character in Ghostbusters.
In the 1980’, during an interview with the Daily Mail, Dan Aykroyd shared that one of his symptoms of autism was his obsession with ghosts and law enforcement and that was the catalyst towards the production of Ghostbusters.
2. Daryl Hannah: Actress and Political Activist
Daryl Hannah is an American actress who has appeared in several films such as Blade Runner, Wall Street, Addams Family and more. In her early years, Hannah mentioned she would easily become fixated on certain objects and would frequently rock herself back and forth. In her words, she said she was “more out there somewhere. I was off in the dream world all the time and was not communicative”. Her autism, she has said, “left her with debilitating shyness and a need to rock for self-soothing and made public events distressing for her”. Her saving grace, Hannah mentioned, was the discovery that acting could provide a vehicle for her vivid imagination. More than acting, she wanted to be physically transported to other realities and found contentment and joy in that.
3. Greta Thunberg: Swedish Environmental Activist Greta Thunberg is a 17 year old environmental activist who is known for challenging world leaders to take immediate action for climate change mitigation.She has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize twice and has been named TIME Magazine’s youngest ever Person of the Year.
Autism can empower individuals to be hyper focused and channel passion into energy. Whilst the prevalent stigma around autism does exist, Thunberg has declared that there is nothing negative about her diagnosis, and has instead likened it to a superpower. “I have Aspergers and that means I’m sometimes a bit different from the norm, And – given the right circumstances – being different is a superpower.”
It is important to remember that autism looks differently on different individuals. While some people with autism may need more support than others, every one of them also has their strengths and abilities which can be used for their benefit when acknowledged and embraced.
Written by: Sharon