Autism: Ethics and Albert Einstein

The following is a blog written by Philip Wylie. As a short introduction Philip Wylie was born in Liverpool, UK. He has worked as Company Director, Business Manager, Company Secretary, Finance Manager, Interim Manager, Business Advisor, Tax Consultant, Sales Representative, and Chief Accountant for several SMEs and three top international companies in UK and the Middle East. He is a Fellow of The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (FCA) and holds an MBA (London).

Since moving to Southeast Asia in 2003, Philip has facilitated workshops and worked as a business broker and advisor with Sunbelt Asia in Thailand. Philip has also written several books on subjects ranging from business to travel and culture.

In November 2011, Philip discovered that he had Asperger syndrome. Since then he wrote “Very Late Diagnosis of Asperger’s” (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2014) and originated the Nine Degrees of Autism developmental model. Nine Degrees of Freedom became a book presently available through Amazon.com.

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75% of survey respondents say it is ethical to label deceased people as having autistic traits (eg Albert Einstein and George Orwell).

Overall The Nine Degrees of Autism team of collaborators believes that it is helpful to identify famous autistic people who have passed away without a formal diagnosis or prior public disclosure of their neurotype.

It helps to understand that all autism diagnoses are (subjective) opinions, so many formal diagnoses are incorrect and subsequently revised. Also, the subjects are not alive to be victims of subsequent prejudice or other abuse, though there may be implications for their living family members, if any.

Professor Stephen Shore says, It’s OK to discuss and examine autistic traits in people who are deceased as long as we realize that we may not know the whole story.  It can even be an interesting thing to do.  However, retroactively diagnosing someone as on the spectrum such as the named people and others goes on very shaky ground because we don’t have all the needed information.  Genius Genes: How Asperger Talents Changed the World (Fitzgerald, M. &  O’Brien, B, 2007) by AAPC Publishing handled this issue well.  The authors examined the characteristics of various figures but didn’t claim to have the authority to diagnose them.  The furthest they went would be to explain that if they had been alive today, possibly they might get diagnosed with X.

Dr Altazar Rossiter, supports Shore’s view that such assessments are just opinions which should not be considered absolutes, and says “From a certain perspective many people have demonstrated autistic traits, and as long as that’s owned as a personal interpretation of what is known about them I can’t see any problem. Where I run into difficulty is when someone sticks a label on and says categorically that this is/was the case about someone ~ whether alive or deceased. There are very few absolutes in the Universe, and trying to pin things down in absolute terms can create a lot of tension, anxiety and trauma – just the things that trying to pin stuff down is about avoiding.”

Louise Page comments, “Highlighting their gifts as being relatable to current knowledge of autistic traits is acceptable and actually a good thing. This helps people see that autism has more than likely been in existence from the dawn of time (which I believe is so) and how many folks on the spectrum have created so many wonderful aspects of life that many take for granted. “

Page continues, “Because we cannot get definitive proof they were actually autistic, I imagine that the only people who could be ‘offended’ by anyone claiming that George Orwell or Einstein, for example, could be those who don’t accept the possibility of autism as being a part of their existence.” So, by associating famous people with autism we are balancing society’s negative perception of the developmental condition because the medical profession focuses only on autistic impairments.

Prof. Manuel Casanova, on the other hand, does not believe that historical examples judged retrospectively are of any value. However, Casanova says, “You can probably make a case for a majority of people.”

Rod Morris says, “It can help a diagnosed individual with empowerment and identity, but with ethical boundaries of stating that the famous person is not diagnosed, but may have reached this particular criteria (insert criteria to back-up assertions) if diagnosis was available at the time. Another ethical aspect would be to state that diagnosis is not scientific, but is based on opinion anyway, and this can only be done with the person being directly assessed while alive.”

So, to conclude, the overriding majority of The Nine Degrees of Autism team believes that it is ethical to identify to deceased people as having autistic traits as long as it is understood that it’s just an opinion and there may be other unknown factors which contradict the opinion. Also, there is much to be learnt by studying famous people who were probably on the autism spectrum, and it’s empowering for autistic people to know about them.

4 responses to “Autism: Ethics and Albert Einstein

    • Einstein was also a real Casanova (pun with my name). His first wife probably had schizophrenia and one of his children who had to be institutionalized.

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  1. “It helps to understand that all autism diagnoses are (subjective) opinions…”

    Does that include autism due to known genetic causes,like Fragile X? Or once an underlying genetic disorder has been found does autism become “features of autism”? This is a discussion we need to be having.

    I agree it’s pointless to try and diagnose famous dead people as being autistic.This is only done by those who believe in neurodiversity to promote their cause,inflate their egos,and marginalize the severely disabled,The “empowerment and identity” of the higher functioning autistics Wylie speaks of comes at the great expense of the lower functioning.Denying their existence and needs is only one step removed from locking them away in the institutions of the bad old days.It sounds like Mr. Wylie is a strong proponent of neurodiversity,even though he has not mentioned it by name.

    Those who do believe in neurodiversity need to come out and explicitly state theirs is a movement for only for the very high functioning.Not one for all autistics.

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  2. I think it is paradoxical, inconsistent, and incoherent that an observer who presumes to be autistic and therefore unable by his own diagnosis to read the emotional cues in other people to have at the same time the ability to diagnose autism in individuals like Albert Einstein whose intellectual, emotional and spiritual background, are wholly encrypted for posterity to find out.

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