World Autism Awareness Day
“April 2, 2015 is the eighth World Autism Awareness Day. Many people have an opinion about what autism is but few get close enough to it to really understand. Its complex features cannot be directly seen but its manifestations are pervasive and often very troubling to those with the condition, to those around them and to those who care for them.
Many in our community have recently watched the movie The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, who was nominated for a best actor Academy Award for his portrayal of Alan Turing. The film told the story of Alan Turing, a brilliant British mathematician. Turing had an interest in cryptology and, during the Second World War, worked at Bletchley Hall with a team of code breakers attempting to unlock the complex and sophisticated Enigma code, used by the enemy to send coded messages. They succeeded in breaking the code with the help of a machine that Turing invented. Turing’s machine is now thought of as the first model of a general purpose computer and Turing is considered the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence.
The movie had an important counter melody to the main theme. It depicted Turing as difficult to work with and also different in the way he lived his life and related to other people. It showed him as being socially awkward and highly focused on his ‘special project.’ Ultimately he got into trouble with the law because of his sexual activities, which were considered criminal at the time. Convicted of indecency, rather than serve a prison sentence, he opted for chemical castration. A short time later he died of cyanide poisoning. An inquest determined it was suicide.
Turing almost certainly had an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Autism Spectrum Disorders were not commonly diagnosed till the end of the twentieth century so Turing and many others were never formally diagnosed. History, however, describes many famous people who, speculatively, may have had Autism Spectrum Disorders: Sir Isaac Newton (physicist and astronomer), Albert Einstein (theoretical physicist), Charles Darwin (naturalist), Jane Austen (novelist), Ludwig van Beethoven (composer and pianist), Bobby Fischer (chess champion), Andy Warhol (artist), Jim Henson (puppeteer), and many others. These people were all extremely gifted and functioned at high levels in their chosen fields. Yet history also documents them as having features suggestive of Autism Spectrum Disorders. Many loved repetition, were socially inept and were difficult to work with. “
– Calgary Physician Vaughan Bowen