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Published on October 8, 2018

15 Successful People with Autism Who Have Inspired Millions of People

15 Successful People with Autism Who Have Inspired Millions of People

There are those who merely roll over and accept whatever hand fate deals them as the perfect excuse to settle for mediocrity.

Then, there are the other type of people:

The inspirational figures.

The highly successful leaders, innovators and creators.

The heroes who take what other people would see as a limitation and turn it into their superpower, using it to change the world, bring joy to the lives of others and inspire millions of people.

Nowhere will you find a more classic example of these superheroes than among those influential people diagnosed with (or at least showing classic symptoms of) autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Affecting an estimated 1.5 million people in the United States and around 700,000 in the UK, ASD is a term which covers a number of unique conditions, ranging from Aspergers Syndrome to Autistic Disorder or ‘classic autism’, the latter being the typical condition that most people think of when they hear the word ‘autism.’

In between, there are those with Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) or ‘atypical autism,’ which is the term typically used to describe individuals who show some signs of being on the autistic spectrum yet don’t meet the full criteria for a diagnosis of Aspergers or Autistic Disorder.

People with autism can face any number of different challenges in life, including, but by no means limited to:

  • Difficulty in communicating with others
  • Troubles maintaining friendships
  • Obsessive interests
  • Repetitive body movements such as hand flapping or rocking back and forth
  • Delayed speech and language skills.

Still, whatever challenges ASD may have presented the individuals we’re going to meet today, these aren’t the kind of people to let those challenges get in the way of achieving their dreams.

Ready to be inspired?

Let’s dive in and meet the business leaders, intellectuals, artists and other highly successful people with autism who have inspired millions of people.

1. Dr. Temple Grandin

    Professor of Animal Science / Influential autism spokesperson

    No list of inspiring people with autism could truly begin without first mentioning Temple Grandin.

    Mute until the age of three-and-a-half, Dr. Grandin was diagnosed with autism as a young child and was eventually able to speak thanks to the help of a speech therapist.

    Finding her voice, she went on to publish Emergence: Labeled Autistic, a ground-breaking book which is widely regarded as the first real insight into the life and thoughts of someone with autism.

    A prolific writer and speaker not only on the subject of autism but also on animal behaviour, Dr. Grandin is a Professor of Animal Science at Colorado University, where she has been called “the most accomplished and well-known adult with autism in the world.”

    In 2010, Time Magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world and she was also the subject of a biographical movie starring Emmy Award-winning actress, Claire Danes.

    2. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

      Composer

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      Though the first recorded case of autism didn’t occur until two centuries after Mozart’s death, many leading experts have retroactively diagnosed the famous composer as showing signs of Tourettes and Aspergers.

      From his repetitive movements and unusual facial expressions to erratic moods and obsessive thoughts and behaviours, Mozart is likely to have classed as being on the spectrum in his day.

      Still, that did little to hamper his progress or creativity.

      Today, Mozart is regarded as one of the greatest composers the world has ever known, composing over 600 pieces from childhood up to his untimely death at age 35. Many of these works are still regarded as the very epitome of excellence in classical music.

      3. Satoshi Tajiri

        Pokémon inventor

        Satoshi Tajiri may not be the most famous name on our list, but there’s no doubt that you will have heard of his creation.

        Diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, Tajiri grew up with a love of Nintendo’s Game Boy and a passion for insect collecting. He later went on to combine the two into an innovative new Game Boy release called Pokémon, in which gamers would ‘collect’ unique, fictional creatures and use them to battle against their opponents.

        The games would serve as the nucleus of what would eventually become the most successful media franchise of all time, including games, books, movies, merchandise and more.

        Though Tajiri has confirmed that he lives with Aspergers on numerous occasions, he also says that he prefers to let his work speak for itself. Having created a franchise reported to be worth $15 billion, who could blame him?

        4. Emily Dickinson

          Writer and poet

          Reclusive writer Emily Dickisnon is often regarded as one of the great all-time poets.

          While much has been made of her epilepsy, a lesser-known fact is that she was likely to be on the spectrum.

          In Writers on the spectrum: how autism and Asperger syndrome have influenced literary writing, writer Julie Brown accredits many of Dickinson’s famously ‘quirky’ behaviours and characteristics to autism.

          5. Anthony Ianni

            National Championship winning basketball player

            When Anthony Ianni was first diagnosed with PDD-NOS, doctors told his parents that the condition ultimately meant he would never achieve much in his life.

            According to those doctors, Ianni would barely graduate from high school, never go to college, and certainly never become an athlete.

            Fortunately, the basketball fan simply didn’t accept this prediction, instead using it as motivation to push himself onto greater things.

            Eventually, he went on to become the first person with autism to ever play First Division basketball, winning the NCAA National Championship with the Michigan Spartans in 2000.

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            Today, Ianni is a popular motivational speaker who encourages young people with autism to let nothing hold them back when it comes to achieving their dreams.

            6. Sir Anthony Hopkins

              Actor

              The Oscar-winning star of The Silence of the Lambs and many other classic movies, Sir Anthony Hopkins has spoken openly about being diagnosed with high-functioning Asperger’s.

              In one interview, he said that being on the spectrum means that, despite genuinely liking people, he doesn’t have many friends or go to parties.

              Regardless, Sir Anthony has become an actor beloved by millions, and one of the most successful actors of his generation.

              7. Albert Einstein

                Theoretical Physicist

                If there’s anyone on today’s list of hugely successful people with autism who really needs no introduction, Einstein is undoubtedly it.

                We all know that he developed the theory of relativity. We all know that he came up with E = MC2, dubbed “the world’s most famous equation.” Most of us even known that he’s widely regarded as one of -if not the- most influential scientists of his -or any- generation.

                Yet not everyone knows that Einstein also met many of the criteria for autism.

                Like Temple Grandin, he didn’t speak until he was three years old. Then, unlike other children who develop their speech gradually, he immediately began speaking in complete sentences.

                Elsewhere, his inflexible insistence on set routines and ‘sameness’ not to mention his difficulty around other people also lead many behavioural analysts today to believe that Einstein would have been diagnosed as having ASD had he been tested in his lifetime.

                8. Dani Bowman

                  Writer, artist and motivational speaker

                  Unlike others who waited until adulthood to inspire others, Dani Bowman has been motivating fellow young people on the autism spectrum from a young age.

                  A talented illustrator and animator, Bowman launched her own company, DaniMation Entertainment, at just 11 years-old and began working professionally in the animation industry three years later.

                  A passionate autism advocate and public speaker, she is very active in inspiring those with ASD and with disabilities to use their full potential, follow their dreams and achieve their goals.

                  9. Andy Warhol

                    Artist

                    As famous for his eccentricity as he is for painting cans of soup, Andy Warhol was never diagnosed with autism in his lifetime.

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                    However, like Mozart, Einstein and several others, many leading experts agree that the famous pop artist displayed many of the characteristics and behaviours synonymous with an autism diagnosis.

                    Known for being socially inept and often struggling to recognise his friends, Warhol would also use very few words in speech and was also adamant about routine and uniformity in his life.

                    Most experts suggest that Warhol had Asperger’s, though of course, this never stopped him becoming one of the most iconic artists of his age.

                    10. Daryl Hannah

                      Actress

                      Well-known for starring in 1980s blockbuster movies like Blade Runner, Wall Street and Steel Magnolias, actress Daryl Hannah has spoken in interviews about how her diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome derailed her career.

                      In the past, she has spoken about how she felt “socially awkward and uncomfortable,” at premieres and events, and how the behaviour caused by her Asperger’s left her “practically blacklisted” from the movie industry.

                      Not one to accept defeat, Hannah continued to succeed despite her struggles, appearing in the critically acclaimed Kill Bill movies as well as many other popular films and theatre shows.

                      11. Dan Aykroyd

                        Actor, comedian, musician

                        Canadian performer Dan Aykroyd has been open about being diagnosed with Tourettes and Asperger’s, with the former being treated as a young child.

                        Taking the obsessive traits of autism and using them to his full advantage, Aykroyd says that obsessing over things like ghosts helped him create the Ghostbuster’s movie.

                        12. Susan Boyle

                          Singer

                          When a shy, awkward-looking, middle-aged Scottish woman shuffled onto the stage on UK TV show Britain’s Got Talent, few were ready to give her a chance and many even ridiculed her.

                          Then, she opened her mouth, silencing her naysayers and stunning the audience with her incredible voice.

                          That one TV appearance launched Susan Boyle’s career, a career which saw her sell over 14 million albums, play sold out concerts and amass an army of loyal followers.

                          All of this happened while living with Asperger’s Syndrome, a diagnosis that the singer says came as a “relief” as it helped her understand and make sense of her uniqueness.

                          13. Clay Marzo

                            Surfer

                            Like Anthony Ianni, Clay Marzo proved that being on the autism spectrum is no barrier to athletic or sporting prowess.

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                            Despite being diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, Marzo carved out a name for himself as one of the most influential and innovative stars in the world of championship surfing.

                            After winning swimming competitions as a child, he achieved third place in the National Scholastic Surfing Association (NSSA) Nationals at aged 11 which led to him signing a professional contract with he Quicksilver team.

                            Four years later, he became the first surfer to ever achieve two perfect 10s in NSSA history, also taking the national championship in the same year.

                            Never allowing Asperger’s to hold him back, Marzo has starred in the documentary film “Clay Marzo: Just Add Water,” talking about his incredible achievements and his experience with Asperger’s.”

                            Today, he volunteers with Surfers Healing, a charity which teaches young people with autism how to surf.

                            14. Tony DeBlois

                              Musician

                              Despite being blind from birth, jazz musician Tony DeBlois began learning the piano aged just two-years old.

                              Showing a natural propensity for the instrument, DeBlois would soon reveal that his talents didn’t just begin and and end with the piano.

                              Diagnosed with autism, he went on to master more than 20 instruments and can play as many as 8,000 pieces of music from memory alone.

                              DeBlois has released multiple albums, toured the world performing concerts, and was even the subject of a made-for-TV movie about his life.

                              15. Dr. Vernon Smith

                                Nobel Prize-winning Professor of Economics

                                Last but by no means least, we finish with a perfect example of someone who truly does see autism as their superpower.

                                Dr. Vernon Smith is a pioneering economics professor largely credited with the invention of experimental economics.

                                This creation led to him winning the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 2002.

                                Open about his Asperger’s Syndrome, Dr. Smith has said that much of his success is due to his autism.

                                “I don’t feel any social pressure to do things the way other people are doing them, professionally,” he once told an interviewer. “So I have been more open to different ways of looking at a lot of the problems in economics.”

                                No Holding Back: The Autistic Superheroes Proving Nothing Is Impossible

                                Whether they’re changing the world as we know it, entertaining us in our favourite movies, books, and poems, or overcoming the odds to become champions in their field, what all of these hugely successful people with autism show is that being on the spectrum needn’t be a barrier to success.

                                Everyone from Albert Einstein to Sir Anthony Hopkins has shown us that no matter what obstacles stand in our way, we can always overcome them to achieve our dreams.

                                If nothing else, that’s something all of us can surely find inspiring, regardless as to whether or not we’re on the spectrum.

                                Featured photo credit: Kyle Glenn via unsplash.com

                                More by this author

                                Chris Skoyles

                                Coach, and trainee counsellor specializing in mental health and addiction.

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                                Last Updated on June 13, 2019

                                How to Attain Self Realization (Step-By-Step Guide for a Better You)

                                How to Attain Self Realization (Step-By-Step Guide for a Better You)

                                Chances are, you’re busy hustling between the 40 hours a week you need to work, the family you need to provide for, and the bills that need to be paid.

                                As the years pass by, you’ve begun to feel the burnout from all the needs and expectations required of you. You don’t feel like you are in control over your own life. In fact, it feels like the circumstances in your life are controlling you.

                                What if there was a way for you to be able to have better control of your life and create all the positive changes you’ve been aching for?

                                This can be done through self-realization.

                                You’ve probably heard of this concept before, but you’re not really sure what it really is or how it can help you.

                                I’m going to dive into what exactly self-realization is and the exact steps you can take to attain it for yourself. Read on if you want to learn how to unlock your potential and find a way to decrease your stress and anxiety, and gain crystal clear clarity about who you are and what you’re capable of.

                                What Is Self-Realization?

                                Self-realization has a few big definitions. In the Western world, it’s generally defined as the activation of one’s full potential of talents and abilities.

                                How Psychologists Define Self-Realization

                                Humanistic psychology also follows a similar train of thought about self-realization.

                                Psychologist Abraham Maslow has named people he considered to have reached self-realization such as Albert Einstein, Abraham Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt to name a few. His famous hierarchy of needs theory states in order to achieve self-realization (or in this case, Maslow uses the term “self-actualization”),[1] one needs to have a certain set of needs met before achieving it:[2]

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                                  For example, self-realization cannot be achieved if you are struggling financially and too caught up in worrying about how to pay for the rent and provide food for your family. Unfortunately, this is usually the case for many people, which leaves little opportunity for them to maximize their abilities.

                                  How Religions Define Self-Realization

                                  In religions, the concept of self-realization is taken from a different perspective altogether. Connecting with your truest self has a lot to do with transcending your own mind and body. This self is often considered as an eternal being that is not confined to the physical space that your mind and body take up. Many recognize this part of yourself as the soul.

                                  To put all of these definitions together, self-realization is ultimately learning the answer to the foundational question, “Who am I?”

                                  The answer lies from understanding that you are not your emotions or your thoughts. Who you really are is not even your body or your mind. These are all things you as a self experience, but they are not you.

                                  And when you are too caught up in these things that are not yours, that’s when you fall victim to and get stuck in your negative experiences such as stress, anxiety and fear.

                                  While your thoughts, feelings, and physical body always changes, you do not.

                                  I know this concept can be a bit confusing to understand, so here’s a great video that explores who you really are explained by Prince EA. It was a video made in response to a bizarre interview session with Comedian Jim Carrey at the red carpet interview at the 2017 New York Fashion Week.

                                  Here’s the video:

                                  Why Self-Realization Matters to You

                                  How often are you distracted, lost in your thoughts, or overwhelmed by difficult emotions?

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                                  Being in the present is more difficult than ever with the technology today. People are often buried in their smartphones or laptops while others around are craving their attention.

                                  Most people spend so little time in the present. They’re usually either hurt and having trouble letting go of their past, or busy worrying about their futures:[3]

                                  “People spend 46.9 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing, and this mind-wandering typically makes them unhappy.”

                                  Here are some amazing benefits to self-realization:

                                  • The ability to monitor your emotions. Rather than being controlled by your emotions, you can now use your observations about them during the experience to learn how to effectively handle things like fear, anxiety and stress. Self-realizations helps you do this by giving you the skill of letting go of debilitating feelings and taking hold of the empowering ones instead.
                                  • Improved focus and concentration. Guided by your own inner goals and values, self-realization helps you easily identify when you are entering into distractions and eliminate them. By getting rid of the meaningless things in your life, you stay committed to what matters most and you begin to see real results as you reach your fullest potential.
                                  • Increased confidence, self-awareness and self-esteem. By being connected deeply to your truest self, self-realization frees you from any insecurities, worries, and low sense of self worth that you feel tangled up in by helping you really grasp the truth that you are not defined by them.
                                  • Becoming more accepting of yourself and of other people. You are able to be more authentic and express emotions freely and clearly. As a result, you are able to form deeper relationships and spend more time connecting with people rather than trying to impress them.

                                  When people don’t have a strong sense of their own self, they get easily swayed to live life the way other people tell them to live it.

                                  The truth of this has been shown through Bronnie Ware’s famous work, which has shown that one of the top regrets of people who are dying was:[4]

                                  “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

                                  There can be tons of pressure whether it’s from work, society, and even friends and family for you to be a certain way. Maybe your rough upbringing instilled a strong need for other’s approval in you so you do what others expect of you. Maybe you’ve stopped trusting people because of your struggles with letting go of the thoughts and experiences that hurt you.

                                  Whatever the situation, self-realization gives you the safe space you need to heal and grow.

                                  How to Start Developing Self-Realization

                                  1. Start Meditating Regularly

                                  Aside from all the scientific evidence that shows the health benefits of meditation, it is also a prime way to achieve self-realization.

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                                  One of my favorite apps that guide you through meditation is Headspace.

                                  I particularly love this app because it is very straightforward without all the woo-woo types of things you normally associate with meditation. It does a great job of demystifying what meditation really is and how it can benefit you to achieving self-realization.

                                  Here’s a great explanation of what meditation does for you:

                                  You can get the basic meditation guidance for free or pay for a premium version for access to more specific meditations that improve things like self esteem, creativity and relationships.

                                  In case you don’t want to download the app, here is the simple meditation practice you can do right now:

                                  1. Sit comfortably on a chair.
                                  2. Start by leaving your eyes open with a relaxed soft focus.
                                  3. Take about a minute to take deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth.
                                  4. After a few deep breaths, gently close your eyes while you are breathing out.
                                  5. Resume normal breathing.
                                  6. Take a moment to pause and enjoy being present in the moment with having nothing to do, nowhere to go, nothing to check.
                                  7. Take a moment to feel the pressure of your body on the chair beneath you, the feet on the floor and the hands and the arms just resting on the legs.
                                  8. Gently bring the focus back to your breathing.
                                  9. As you sit there beginning to notice the breath and the body with its rising and falling sensation, don’t try and stop your thoughts. Simply allow them to just come and go.
                                  10. At this point, the only thing you need to do is when you’ve realized your mind has wandered, gently bring the focus back to your breath again.
                                  11. Gently bring the attention back to your body, back to that feeling of contact to your chair and the space around you and when ready, gently open your eyes again.

                                  Even if it’s only 5-10 minutes a day, learning to train your mind to be present is so important to your journey towards self-realization. You need to take a step back from the craziness of life and recompose yourself to be present for the things that matter most.

                                  Another great method that can be used to achieve self-realization that involves a bit more body strength is yoga. While there are many variations of yoga and has also become a very popular form of exercise in western culture, its original purpose served as a meditative practice to achieve the higher level of consciousness that comes from self-realization.

                                  You can access plenty of free Yoga channels on Youtube or join a gym to get started.

                                  2. Make Time for Self-Realization Every Day

                                  I know what you’re thinking.

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                                  “I don’t have time for this!”

                                  I beg to differ.

                                  About 40 percent of the things you do in a day don’t involve you actively making a decision. Instead, it is actually a habit.

                                  Out of all of your habits, there are probably a handful of bad ones. If you can observe your daily routines, there is a simple way to change a bad habit into a good one, which is to start making changes to your environment to make it easier for you to change your habits.

                                  The idea is rather than trying to squeeze in more time to do something, simply alter a daily habit you have into something else.

                                  For example, let’s say you start your morning by brewing your coffee and sitting down on the dining table for 20 minutes to browse the internet to catch up on the news.

                                  The news is usually full of negative information, so why not spend those 20 minutes in meditation instead?

                                  One easy way to make this change is to change your environment up by keeping your laptop and phone in a different room so you don’t have immediate access to it when you sit down on the dining table. You make it easier on yourself to spend time meditating rather than staring at a screen.

                                  Want some more great tips on breaking bad habits? You can try out Lifehack CEO’s secret Control Alternate Delete method, which was the method he used to break 3 bad habits in less than 2 months.

                                  Final Thoughts

                                  Self-realization doesn’t happen overnight. It will take some time and practice, but if you turn the practices into a habit, you’ll be guaranteed to get there. Once you do, you’ll finally feel like you are in more control over your life and be able to get yourself to the next level.

                                  Now that you have a better understanding of the importance and benefits of self-realization, why not take a moment to put everything down and give it a try?

                                  More About Self-Realization

                                  Featured photo credit: Kyle Glenn via unsplash.com

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