The debate continues: Did Einstein have Asperger’s and / or Dyslexia?

Einstein has long been included in many a list detailing the greatest success stories of those with dyslexia. Theories have been bandied about for decades about the great physicist and his supposed learning difficulties, however in recent years these have become more and more contended. Though he remains a success story to be told and retold, many think that his peculiarities can now be attributed not to dyslexia, but instead to a form of high functioning autism called Asperger’s Syndrome.

Asperger’s Syndrome is characterised in boys by a perceived air of aloofness, being emotionally detached, displaying extreme egocentricity and being often socially inappropriate. These are all symptoms that Einstein displayed during his childhood. His siblings remembered his as being a boy who had little to no interest in typical childhood games, and instead would spend hours building intricate structures with cards or building blocks, or delving into books about complicated arithmetic.  He showed very little interest in interacting with his peers and later said that he felt like there was a ‘glass pane’ separating him from his fellow human beings.

This disinterest in what we would think of as typical childhood activities in favour of mathematics or physics based activities, or the violin, is evidence of another of the commonly known symptoms of Asperger’s, an obsessive interest in a specific topic, often to the exclusion of any other interests. This is one of the most commonly discussed traits of Asperger’s, and one of the most commonly known to the general public. Mathematics, physics and music are often associated with it as autism is linked to genes that confer a talent for grasping complex systems such as these. The exclusive interests of those with Asperger’s lends them to often ignore other unrelated subjects, especially in school. More recently this has been used as an alternative explanation for Einstein’s lack of any affinity for language based subjects, rather than being seen as linked to a learning difficulty.

Einstein continued to show these traits as he grew up, as well as a difficulty with interpersonal relationships and problems communicating non-verbally. Many cite his marriages as evidence that he couldn’t have had Asperger’s because he was able to hold down two long term marriages and father children. However this fails to take into account the complexity of these relationships and the fact that every illness, whether physical or not, manifests in each person differently. Throughout his marriages Einstein had numerous affairs which he viewed as so inconsequential that he would happily and openly discuss them with his wives. This showed a complete lack of understanding and empathy; he clearly failed to understand that this might be upsetting and hurtful to them. When confronted with with emotional rather than physical need he is said to have retreated to the objectivity of his science and his work.

Whilst it is always a difficult business retrospectively diagnosing someone, many believe that Einstein’s eccentricities were at least in part due to the possibility that he was on the autism spectrum. Asperger’s or not, he will always occupy a spot on the list of the greatest thinkers science has ever known.

-Article Written by Olivia Hardy