Genius, Creativity and Savantism

Persons with High Functioning Autism or Asperger’s syndrome can show considerable creativity.  Indeed they have the capacity for extreme creativity in a small number of cases.  Evidence of minor creativity would be more common.  The features of autism / Asperger’s syndrome that would enhance creativity would include intense focus on narrow interests.  It is rarely possible to make major advances in science without this narrow intense focus.  The lack of interest in emotional issues means that there is far more time available for intellectual mathematical, philosophical, and other scientific pursuits.  Their time is not taken up with interpersonal relationships and with ordinary everyday life. They are often workaholics and their whole life is devoted to their creative pursuit.  Persons with autism often have abnormal brain functioning and indeed brain structure and these deficits in some way enhance creativity. This kind of creativity has genetic underpinning of a type that has not yet been fully elucidated.  Heritability factors account for about 93% of the variants in the aetiology of autism / Asperger’s syndrome.  The following are some examples of this creativity.


Henry Cavendish


Henry Cavendish (1731 – 1810) had High Functioning Autism / Asperger’s syndrome.  He was an enormously successful scientist.  He had enormous difficulties in interpersonal relationships. He was a man of enormous routines and regularities in his conduct of his life. He was very poor at speech making. Nevertheless he could be very precise in his use of language.  He lacked empathy in interpersonal relationships and Berry notes Cavendish’s “striking deficiencies as a human being”.  Indeed “his habitual profound withdrawal lead one contemporary to characterise him as ‘the coldest and most indifferent of mortals’”.  He had an awkward gait and there is absolutely no doubt that like Newton and Einstein he had High Functioning Autism / Asperger’s syndrome.


Charles Babbage


Charles Babbage (1792 – 1871) also had High Functioning Autism / Asperger’s syndrome.  He was the father of the modern computer.  He was an autodictat.  He spent a great deal of his life trying to build calculating machines. The first one was called a ‘difference engine’ and the second an ‘analytical engine’.  According to Swade Babbage’s engine ‘gave new impetus to the notion of a “thinking machine” and stimulated the debate about the relationship between the mind and physical mechanism’.  He had major problems in interpersonal relationships.  He worked largely in isolation.  He had a socially immature personality not uncommon in persons with High Functioning Autism / Asperger’s syndrome.  He suffered from anxiety and depression.  He was an excellent mathematician.  He was described as an eccentric and comic figure. He was naïve and showed a lack of commonsense.




Archimedes (C 287 – 212 BC) also had High Functioning Autism / Asperger’s syndrome.  He was an extremely eccentric individual spending as much of his life isolated in solitary.  He had a good mechanical mind.  He invented what is called the Archimedes screw for pumping water which is still used to this day.  He was highly regarded as an engineer and inventor.  He only liked to talk to mathematicians.  He was the discoverer of what is called the Archimedes principal i.e. that the floating body will displace its own weight in fluid. He was an obsessive mathematician.  He neglected his personal hygiene.  Like Newton he left his meals untouched when he was deep in mathematics.


Norbert Wiener


Norbert Wiener (1894 – 1964) was another mathematician with High Functioning Autism / Asperger’s syndrome. He was an autodictat, a linguist, and a rather absent minded professor.  He was a socially immature child.  He lacked empathy and was tactless with people.  He was rather a lone wolf and was uncertain about how to conduct conversations.  He was a very poor teacher.  He was very routine bound.  He was a rather clumsy child which is not uncommon with HFA / ASP and indeed like many others he suffered from anxiety and depression.  He was described as being very eccentric.


Nikola Tesla


Nikola Tesla was a famous electrical inventor who had High Functioning Autism / Asperger’s syndrome. He had a photographic memory. He was a linguist.  He was an avid reader.  He had an obsessive compulsive personality type.  He was an autodictat. He had major difficulties in social relationships, was socially immature and naïve.  He was extremely controlling and spoke with a high pitched voice.  He was extremely naïve in dealing with people who would finance his inventions.  He was very much a loner and remained unmarried and was extremely interested in pigeons. He had no capacity to manage money.  His main interest was in inventions.  He was the inventor of radio among many other things.


David Hilbert


The mathematician David Hilbert (1862 – 1943) had High Functioning Autism / Asperger’s syndrome.  He was a great mathematician.  He showed eccentric interpersonal behaviour and was socially immature. His only interest was in discussing mathematical subjects.  He showed extreme self control.  Routines were extremely important to him.  He tended to show repetitive language.  Nevertheless he was very precise in his use of words. He showed lack of empathy.  He believed no scientist should marry.  He suffered from anxiety and depression.


G. H. Hardy


The great English mathematician G. H. Hardy had High Functioning Autism / Asperger’s syndrome.  He was a very eccentric man who never married. Routine was extremely important to him. His great interest in life was mathematics.  He loved cats.  He was extremely honest in his behaviour.  Later he suffered from depression and attempted suicide. Attempting suicide is not uncommon in persons with High Functioning Autism / Asperger’s syndrome.


Dimitri Mendeleyev


Dimitri Mendeleyev who developed the periodic table in chemistry had High Functioning Autism / Asperger’s syndrome. He had major difficulties in interpersonal relationships.  He was most eccentric looking.  He cut his hair once a year.  He had tremendous focus on chemistry and on chemical elements and it was this intense focus that brought him success.  Like so many successful people with HFA / ASP he performed poorly in school.


Edward Teller


The most classic person of all with Asperger’s syndrome was Edward Teller the father of the H Bomb and the subject of a recent book called Edward Teller – The Real Strangelove from Harvard University Press.


Asperger’s syndrome is characterised by avoidance of eye contact, problems reading non-verbal behaviour, being a loner with a lack of social know-how, having problems sharing thoughts, and problems with empathy. They often speak with a high pitched or unusual tone of voice and repeat phrases. Gillberg calculates that 0.3% to 0.5% of the population has it.  they like routine and have preservation of sameness.  As children they often line things up, flap their hands, and are fussy eaters. They often have narrow obsessive interests in engineering, mechanics, astronomy, science, palaeontology, etc.  It is one of the most missed diagnosis in adult psychiatry.  They are misdiagnosed as Schizophrenia Personality Disorder and a wide variety of other diagnosis.  This leads to inappropriate treatments which only aggravate the situation. hopefully the Irish Psychiatric Association, Irish College of Psychiatrists, and the Mental Health Commission will examine the issue.  Psychiatric CPD has failed in relation to Asperger’s syndrome and indeed adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder which in reliable epidemiological studies in USA affects 4.4% of the population.