As stated by the National Autistic Society, ‘autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people, and how they experience the world around them’. As the charity points out, the condition forms an integral part of an individual’s identity and shouldn’t be considered an illness that can be “cured”.
As autistic people see, hear and feel the world differently to neurotypical people, many autistic people use their traits, such as highly focused interests and sensory sensitivity, to achieve incredible feats. For World Autism Awareness Week, we've taken a look at five inspiring autistic people and what they’ve achieved below.
Greta Thunberg, Environmental Activist
Dubbed as the voice of a generation, Greta Thunberg is arguably the most prominent public autistic person of our time. Greta has inspired millions of people around the world to act with her ‘School Strike for Climate’ movement, regularly addresses world leaders on climate issues and was named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year in 2019. She likens her Asperger’s Syndrome, which falls within the autistic spectrum, to a ‘superpower’, giving her the ability to ‘think outside of the box’ and use her strengths to combat one of the most pressing global issues of our time.
Stephen Wiltshire, Artist
With drawings held in many important art collections and museums all over the world, Stephen Wiltshire is renowned for his ability to draw detailed cityscapes after having only seen them briefly. Having received the diagnosis of autism aged 3, Stephen’s focus and attention to detail enable him to create detailed masterpieces of cities such as London, Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai and more, some of which span up to 10 metres long. In 2006, Stephen was awarded an OBE for services to the art world and founded his own permanent art gallery in London’s Royal Opera Arcade.
Elisabeth Wiklander, Cellist
Before acquiring a highly competitive position as a cellist for the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Elisabeth Wiklander received her diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome in 2009 when she was 28. In her TEDx talk, Elisabeth discusses how neurodiversity ‘should be accepted as a natural and valuable part of humanity’s genetic legacy’. Since she was appointed a Cultural Ambassador for the National Autistic Society since 2015, Elisabeth campaigns to increase public understanding of autism.
Dan Aykroyd, Comedian, Singer, Actor, Screenwriter
Famed for his acting in films including Driving Miss Daisy and Blues Brothers, the Academy Award-nominated actor Dan Aykroyd received his diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome later on in his life. Dan credits the idea for one of his most loved films, Ghost Busters, to his Asperger’s, claiming the idea for the hit film stemmed from his obsession with ghosts and law enforcement.
Chris Packham, TV Presenter, Naturalist
Although he didn’t receive his diagnosis until his forties, for British TV Presenter and Naturalist Chris Packham, autism has defined his whole life. He went on to present several TV shows including Springwatch and The Really Wild Show as a result of an intense interest in nature when he was growing up. Chris now acts as an ambassador for the National Autistic Society and spoke openly about his diagnosis in the BBC Two documentary Chris Packham: Asperger’s and Me.
This article was written by the Tes SEN Show, the UK’s leading show for the special educational needs community. The show takes place on 8-9 January 2021 at the Business Design Centre in London. To explore all the exciting special features, book expert-led CPD and register your free place, visit tessenshow.co.uk/London