Autism awareness continues to grow, especially as more and more celebrities open up about being neurodivergent (aka having ADHD and/or being autistic.)
Singers, actors, models, tech geniuses — many famous men and women are autistic. While many were diagnosed as children, some didn't get an official diagnosis until adulthood. Experts have also compiled historical figures they believe may have been on the autism spectrum, although their diagnoses can't be confirmed.
Keep reading for a list of the most famous autistic role models.
⚠️ Important notes
The diagnosis previously known as "Asperger's syndrome" is now classified as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as of 2013. However, those diagnosed before 2013 have been "grandfathered" in by the American Psychological Association (APA).1 Still, some individuals choose to use the term "Asperger's" to describe their neurodivergence, and in such cases, we respect their preference and utilize the term accordingly.
Identity-first vs. person-first language
In this article, we use identity-first and person-first language interchangeably, respecting the preferences of the individuals featured. We acknowledge that a majority of the autistic community prefers identity-first language ("autistic") over person-first language ("person with autism").
Featured celebrities with autism
Legendary actor Anthony Hopkins was diagnosed with Asperger's in his 70s. "I don't go to parties; I don't have many friends," he said, adding that being on the spectrum helped his acting.
"I definitely look at people differently. I like to deconstruct, to pull a character apart."
In an interview with GQ, he spoke more about his diagnosis, saying, "I don't believe in it. I don't feel any different," and later referring to it as "a fancy label."
Her starring role as the beautiful mermaid in Splash made her a star, but for Daryl Hannah, acting was a way to cope with her autism.
Diagnosed as a child, she said doctors wanted to institutionalize her, but her mom refused. Still, she grew up feeling incredibly alone. She would rock back and forth to calm herself and watch old movies. "Acting for me was about going to the Land of Oz and meeting the Tin Man," she said.
Despite finding success in Hollywood, she struggled with her autism, hiding it from directors and producers. She also refused to attend movie premieres or do press interviews saying that it "terrified" her.
The famous actor and comedian from Ghostbusters, Blues Brothers, and Saturday Night Live has always been open about his mental health.
I was diagnosed with Tourette's at 12. I had physical tics, nervousness, and made grunting noises, and it affected how outgoing I was.
I also have Asperger's, but I can manage it. It wasn't diagnosed until the early 80s when my wife persuaded me to see a doctor.
But for Dan Aykroyd, being on the spectrum helped him with his artistic endeavors.
"One of my symptoms included my obsession with ghosts and law enforcement," he said. Like many autistics, he tends to become hyperfixated on his interests, ultimately leading him to write Ghostbusters.
Courtney Love, known for being Kurt Cobain's widow, a singer, and a controversial figure in pop culture, is also autistic. Courtney struggled in school, both socially and academically. In a 1994 interview with Rolling Stone, she said,
When I talk about being introverted, I was diagnosed autistic. At an early age, I would not speak. Then I simply bloomed. My first visit to a psychiatrist was when I was, like, three.
Interestingly, her late husband, Kurt Cobain, was also neurodivergent; the singer was diagnosed with ADHD in childhood.
The well-known figure behind Tesla and Twitter, Elon Musk, unveiled his Asperger's diagnosis during his hosting gig on SNL in 2021. The billionaire CEO later shared his experience:
"I was bullied quite a lot. I did not have such a happy childhood, to be frank."
He had difficulty understanding social cues and tended to take things literally—common traits of autistic individuals. As a result, Musk spent a lot of time reading instead of socializing.
I found it rewarding to spend all night programming computers.
The Scottish singer wasn't diagnosed with ASD until she was 51-years-old and spent years believing she had what doctors called "brain damage."
"I always knew it was an unfair label," Boyle said. "Now I have a clearer understanding of what's wrong, and I feel relieved and a bit more relaxed about myself."
Historical figures with (suspected) autism
According to researchers and historians, several famous figures throughout history may have been autistic, although there's no way to be certain. Here are a few of them.
Albert Einstein, regarded as one of the greatest minds of all time, is believed to have been autistic.
Einstein's documented behavioral and personality traits that support the idea that he may have had autism:
- Didn't speak until age 4 or 5
- Hyperfixations and hyperfocus
- Difficulty with social interactions
- Sensory processing difficulties; i.e., he did not like to be touched
In addition, Einstein's brain has been preserved and studied by scientists who hypothesize that certain neural differences are indicative of autism.2
Literature professor Julie Brown wrote the book, Writers on the Spectrum: How Autism and Asperger Syndrome Have Influenced Literary Writing. Within its pages, Brown suggests that the reclusive poet, Emily Dickinson, was on the spectrum due to her various "social quirks."
Considered a creative genius, many experts believe Andy Warhol had autism. The artist displayed several traits associated with ASD, including a love of repetition, adherence to routine, and social difficulties.
Other notable autistic icons
Autistic actors and comedians
- Coby Bird – actor
- Hannah Gadsby – comedian
- Kayla Cromer – actress
- Lizzy Clark – actress
- Mickey Rowe – Broadway actor and author
- Tal Anderson – actress
- Wentworth Miller – actor
Musicians, models, dancers, and TV personalities with autism
- Adam Young – musician
- Alexis Wineman – Miss America contestant*
- Chris Fisher – celebrity chef
- Christine McGuinness – model and TV personality
- Craig Nichols – musician
- Heather Kuzmich – model, America's Next Top Model contestant
- Marty Balin – singer, songwriter
- Matt Savage – musician*
- Melanie Sykes – TV presenter
- Tom Malone – dancer, TV personality
- Tony DeBlois – musician
Autistic writers, professors, and activists
- Ada Hoffmann – author
- Eric Garcia – journalist and author
- Greta Thunberg – environmental activist
- Helen Hoang – novelist
- Holly Smale – author
- Jen Wilde – YA author
- John Elder Robison – author
- Kay Kerr – writer and author
- Madeleine Ryan – author
- Naoki Higashida – author
- Rachael Lucas – author
- Sara Gibbs – TV writer and author
- Talia Hibbert – novelist
- Temple Grandin – author, professor
- Dr. Vernon Smith – professor, economist, Nobel prize winner
- Yoon Ha Lee – writer
- Alex Reid – MMA fighter
- Anthony Ianni – division I basketball player*
- Chris Morgan – Olympic rower
- Clay Marzo – professional surfer
- David Campion – snowboarder
- Jessica-Jane Applegate – swimmer
- Jim Eisenreich – former MLB player
- Joe Barksdale – former NFL player
- Oliver Kettleborough – gymnast
- Sam Holness – triathlete
- Tommy Des Brisay – runner
Historical figures believed to have been on the autism spectrum
- Barbara McClintock – scientist
- Carl Sagan – astronomer
- Charles Darwin – evolutionary biologist
- Hans Christian Andersen – author
- Henry Cavendish – philosopher and scientist
- Isaac Newton – mathematician and physicist
- James Joyce – writer
- Jane Austen – author
- Leonardo Da Vinci – artist, inventor
- Lewis Carroll – author
- Ludwig van Beethoven – composer
- Michelangelo – artist
- Nikola Tesla – inventor, engineer
- Paul Dirac – physicist
- Thomas Jefferson – former US president
- Virginia Woolf – writer
- Wolfgang Mozart – composer
*Diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS); previously considered a subtype of autism, PDD is now part of the umbrella ASD diagnosis.
1 Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders | The Diagnosis of Autism: From Kanner to DSM-III to DSM-5 and Beyond (2021)
2 The Journal of Comparative Neurology | The Search for True Numbers of Neurons and Glial Cells in the Human Brain: A Review of 150 Years of Cell Counting (2016)