Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Einstein's Alleged Autism Is Speculation Not Fact

WNDU has an interesting autism article and video feature Autism: Understanding the Puzzle on its web site The feature is helpful in stressing different kinds of autism and providing links to autism resources. The video includes footage of a family's children with different autism disorders. One drawback though is that the feature opens by asserting as fact the speculation that Albert Einstein was autistic.

"What do you think of when you hear names like Albert Einstein or Dan Aykroyd? It's likely Einstein's brillance comes to mind and Aykroyd's comic timing. But did you know both the physicist and comedian had or have forms of autism?"

I don't know if Mr. Aydroyd has an autism diagnosis disorder or not but Albert Einstein did not in the sense that he was never diagnosed with autism . There are some who speculate that Einstein was autistic because of some known eccentric behaviors and his self description as a lone traveler. Speculation about historical figures having been autistic is common and includes Beethoven, Newton, Darwin, Jefferson, Hitler, Eamon de Valera, Orwell and Michelangelo to name only a few. The problem is that all such instances are simply speculation. The biggest drawback of any such speculation is the total lack of any clinical observation:

Speculative claims that historical figues displayed behaviors associated with autism spectrum
disorder include people who died before the work done by Hans Asperger and Leo Kanner in classifying autism spectrum conditions was completed. Autism has only been recognized since the 1940s, so many earlier cases may have gone undiagnosed.[2]Speculation about their diagnoses is based on reported behaviors rather than any clinical observation of the individual. Fred Volkmar, a psychiatrist and autism expert at the Yale Child Study Center says, "There is unfortunately a sort of cottage industry of finding that everyone has Asperger's."[3]

Wikipedia, People speculated to have been autistic

Unfortunately, speculation repeated often enough will sometimes becomes accepted as fact. When it does a myth is born. Albert Einstein was brilliant, he was different, but he was never diagnosed with an Autism Disorder.


jypsy said...

From The Guardian "It was his parents (his father was a civil engineer, his mother a secretary) who started Aykroyd on the acting path by enrolling him at an improvisational class. They didn't particularly want him to be an actor, they just thought it would help calm their hyperactive son - he had been expelled from two schools for acting up and a psychiatrist had diagnosed mild Asperger's syndrome, a condition on the autism spectrum, because Aykroyd had a few tics and had shown signs of obsessive compulsive disorder."

He also discusses it on NPR here

As far as Einstein goes - absolutely, he was not diagnosed during his lifetime. To say he was autistic is pure speculation.

jonathan said...
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Maya M said...

I have read in many sources (though none of them really reliable) that Einstein was a late talker.
Today, my observation is that most late talkers are put by experts somewhere on the spectrum, especially when there isn't an apparent alternative cause for the speach delay.
I agree that people should be cautious about posthumous "diagnoses".