he list of off-the-charts young achievers associated, in retrospect, with Asperger’s syndrome extends a long way back. You may have heard that Bill Gates has been informally diagnosed with it. So, after the fact, has Bobby Fischer, obsessive and unable to look anybody in the eye. The label has been applied to Newton, Mozart, Yeats, and Wittgenstein, too. All of these recruits, of course, grew up well before the autism spectrum disorder—called by some “the engineers’ disease”—claimed a place in the 1994 revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, psychiatry’s authoritative guide. Nearly 20 years later, in 2013, the Asperger’s label was officially dropped. But high-functioning autism had come trailing an aura of precocious genius, along with painful social cluelessness, and that aura was here to stay. The very bright yet remote “little professor” profile has become, as a journalist put it, “a signature disorder of the high-tech information age.” Unofficially the diagnosis, rooted in descriptions published in 1944 by the Viennese pediatrician Hans Asperger, is still with us—a portent of struggle, surely, yet also perhaps of unusual potential. Hadn’t Asperger said that “for success in science and art a dash of autism is essential”?
— Read on m.nautil.us/issue/56/Perspective/autistic-prodigies-since-rain-man