Celebrities often succeed in life despite overwhelming challenges. We’ve covered celebrities with deformities, celebrities with disabilities, and celebrities with mental illness. But autism is not a mental illness. It’s a developmental condition that affects behavior and communication. Symptoms of autism include difficulty recognizing facial expressions and social cues.
Autism is no “one size fits all” diagnosis. This is why we refer to autism as a spectrum, and you might be surprised at how many people fall somewhere on this spectrum. For example, a less severe form of autism is known as Asperger’s Syndrome.
Many famous actors, musicians, and Hollywood personalities have received an autism spectrum diagnosis over the years, and the diagnosis often changed their lives in very profound ways. Fortunately, each of these celebs was able to overcome this obstacle and succeed on the world stage in a big way.
The first celeb on our list is a controversial one for more than one reason. Tim Burton is a writer, producer, and director. He is best known for movies such as Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice, and Batman.
Burton is the first of a few celebs on this list who has not received a medical autism diagnosis. However, he does consider himself autistic. This happened after he and his then-partner (acclaimed actress Helena Bonham Carter) watched an autism documentary and Burton felt that it accurately described his childhood.
Bonham Carter has stated she thinks Burton has Asperger’s Syndrome. But she likes how Burton channeled this unique way of looking at things into an influential career.
Courtney Love is the lead singer of the band Hole and the widow of beloved grunge rocker Kurt Cobain. She is also a talented actress, starring in films such as Man on the Moon and The People vs. Larry Flint.
She eventually fell into some familiar celebrity vices such as drugs and alcohol. This may have been a coping mechanism because Love is an introvert who tried to live a very extroverted lifestyle. Furthermore, she thinks her introvert nature is a symptom of the autism diagnosis she received at the age of nine.
Daryl Hannah is another Hollywood icon who has starred in everything from Splash to Kill Bill. And she received her autism diagnosis earlier than most of the celebs on this list, when she was just a child.
At the time, doctors didn’t have different spectrum diagnoses such as Asperger’s. But they recognized her chronic shyness and need to self-soothe via rocking as proof that she had autism.
Fortunately, Hannah was able to overcome that shyness and become one of the world’s most beloved celebrities. And “Madison” became a popular name for girls thanks to her iconic character in Splash.
Dan Aykroyd is a genuine icon of ’80s and ’90s comedy. Fans know him best for weird and wild movies such as Ghostbusters, Blues Brothers, and Coneheads.
It may be tough to imagine Aykroyd on the spectrum. But he received diagnoses for Asperger’s and Tourette’s in the ’80s, when he was arguably at the pinnacle of his career. Instead of being an impediment to his career, it became a real help.
Asperger’s can lead people to fixate on things, and Aykroyd became obsessed with both ghosts and criminals. This helped him both write and act in Ghostbusters, a career-defining movie!
Many celebrities and non-celebrities alike consider an autism diagnosis to be bad news. However, for Scottish singing sensation Susan Boyle, it was some of the best news she could get.
She received an Asperger’s diagnosis back in 2012 when she was 51 years old. Why was the diagnosis a relief? Simple: when she was a child, she was actually diagnosed with brain damage after complications during her birth. “I always knew it was an unfair label. Now I have a clearer understanding of what’s wrong and I feel relieved and a bit more relaxed about myself,” she told The Guardian.
Boyle carried that diagnosis like an albatross her entire life. Now she knows there is nothing damaged about her. Like everyone else on this list, she simply sees the world in a different way.
You might not recognize Dan Harmon on sight. But he has served as a showrunner for some of TV’s most iconic shows such as Rick and Morty and Community.
Community features a character known as Abed who has Asperger’s syndrome. In order to properly develop and write the character, Harmon did a ton of research on autism. He eventually determined that many of these Asperger’s syndromes applied to his own life.
While Harmon never received a medical diagnosis, he did confirm with a doctor that his well-known reactions were in line with autistic behavior.
Comedian Jerry Seinfield is most famous for the Seinfeld television show. In that show, he played an exaggerated version of himself. His character and others were famous for outlandish behavior that helped play up the comedian’s observational humor.
As it turns out, his “outside observations” may come from a unique way of seeing the world. Seinfield, like Harmon and Burton, essentially diagnosed himself as somewhere on the spectrum after learning more about autism.
“I’m very literal. When people talk to me and they use expressions, sometimes I don’t know what they’re saying. But I don’t see it as dysfunctional. I just think of it as an alternate mindset,” he said in an interview with NBC’s Brian Williams.
Seinfield thinks being on the spectrum explains his difficulties in socializing and understanding people. And despite not having an official medical diagnosis, he has become a major advocate for autism.
Singer James Durbin is best known for being a finalist on American Idol. At the age of 10, Durbin got a Tourette’s and high-functioning autism diagnosis. At that age, it made him feel isolated and different from everyone else.
He grew up to embrace his unique way of seeing the world and channeled it into his musical talent. Now that he is a successful front man for the band Quiet Riot, he helps children understand how to transform obstacles into opportunities.