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An Attempt to Uncover Autism in the Personality of Albert Einstein

A great mystery to contemplate is whether Albert Einstein had autism. Einstein was never diagnosed. The diagnosis itself was only developed in the decade prior to his death, but Einstein displayed many of the traits of autism. However, many people believe that Einstein was just an eccentric genius and that his intelligence made it hard for him to relate to others. If, as some researchers believe, Einstein had autism, the question arises whether his genius was such because or in spite of his potential disability. The sciences have long attracted people with autistic traits, provoking the idea that he was drawn to science because the thinking patterns needed in scientific endeavors are highly compatible with autistic mentalities.

Autism affects everyone differently. As of 2012, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) was identified in 1 in 68 eight-year-old children, according to the CDC. The CDC reports that autism occurs approximately 4.5 times more often in males compared to females, with a typical percentage of the population affected being somewhere between 1% and 2% in Europe, Asia, and North America. There is no known cause, but the CDC claims that many scientists suspect some genetic risk factors. Reports from the CDC say that there has been research showing higher likelihood of ASD in children born to older parents. Contrary to popular belief, however, research by the CDC shows that vaccines have no correlation to ASD. People on the autism spectrum generally have greater difficulty in social situations. Many people on the spectrum struggle with understanding motives and social cues. Body language is difficult for people with autism to notice and account for. Autistic people tend to struggle to make friends, having difficulty relating to others. Some people with autism develop cognitive abilities more slowly. Autism tends to show itself in fixations. Autistic people tend to grasp onto a subject and explore it fully, often eagerly sharing their findings in a repetitive manner. They struggle with humor, often viewing jokes as literal. Everyone with autism shares some of these traits, but not all and not in the same way.

Einstein had some of these traits. He did not talk until he was three and was not a fluent speaker until he was ten. Einstein went from not talking at all to talking in complete, often repetitive, sentences. This is an autistic way of learning: not demonstrating ability until a basic level of capability is established. Some people on the spectrum will refuse to acknowledge a skill, such as reading or speaking, until they feel that they can do it decently. There was a period of several years where Einstein would say his sentences softly to himself and then repeat them, louder, to whoever he was talking to. As a child, Einstein did not have friends. He was a loner who tended to ignore social conventions, like respecting teachers. He did not demonstrate care in his appearance, often dressing in an unkempt manner. He was intensely focused on prior scientific topics. Einstein displayed many of the subtler nuances of autism.

On the other hand, Einstein had a good sense of humor. He traveled around the world after receiving his Nobel Prize, engaging with his admirers. As an adult, he had friends, some of whom he took time out of his busy life as an assistant in a patent office to go to another country, Switzerland, to see them. He was witty and smart, and that, combined with narcissism, passion for his subject, and impatience with slower thinkers, could easily be the cause of his isolation. Einstein was never formally diagnosed, though, so there is no way to be sure.

Regardless of his state of disability, Einstein did great things. He received sixty-two nominations for the Nobel Prize over the course of twelve years. He eventually won the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics, though it was delayed. Nobel Prizes can be awarded a year late if there is nothing worthy of the prize according to the guidelines set out by Alfred Nobel. Einstein won the 1921 prize in 1922 for that reason. He was a professor at several schools, such as Princeton and the University of Berlin. The Kaiser Wilhelm Physical Institute appointed him as Director in 1914. Einstein was offered the presidency of Israel after World War II, but he declined, though he did help establish the award-winning Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Einstein is famous for his contributions to the theory of relativity, theory of radiation, and the photon theory of light. After retirement, he continued his research using geometrisation, which was not the popular method at the time. He holds an honorary doctorate at many prominent European and American universities. Einstein was also awarded Memberships or Fellowships to all of the top scientific academies of the time.

Einstein was an incredible thinker, but whether this was because of autism or not is unclear. However, science is a logical career path for people with autism because the results of an experiment either prove a hypothesis wrong, or provoke further research. If the experiment is a success, autistic tendencies lead a person to want to expand their evidence and test the hypothesis under other circumstances, or figure out why it worked. If it does not work, autistic people will usually want to find out why it failed. This may be why Einstein was drawn to science: autism is highly compatible with science. Autism usually generates black and white thinking. People on the autism spectrum tend to want everything to be either right or wrong, with little patience for ambiguity. If there is question, autistic people have a strong drive to prove their point of view. Even if Einstein did not have autism, he did possess many traits commonly found in people with autism, so he could still have been drawn to science because of his way of thinking. Assuming that he did have autism, the question remains: was Einstein so incredibly brilliant because he had autism or in spite of it? It is clear that he was successful, but there is no way to definitely tell if his success was generated by the wiring of his brain. It seems likely that he was able to see things from a different perspective, an autistic perspective, which, perhaps, led him to his discoveries. Autistic or not, Albert Einstein was a genius who brought science into a new age.

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