Charles Darwin had autism, leading psychiatrist claims

Charles Darwin probably had a form of autism called Asperger’s syndrome which is related to creativity and originality, a leading psychiatrist claims.

Darwin, the author of On the Origin of Species which sets out the theory of natural selection, had an extraordinary attention to detail but had difficulties with social interaction, according to Prof Michael Fitzgerald of Dublin’s Trinty College.

Prof Fitzgerald believes that Darwin, who was born on Feb12, 200 years ago, was suffering from a behavioural disorder.

Today he will tell the annual meeting of the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Faculty of Academic Psychiatry, and says Darwin was probably suffering from Asperger’s syndrome.

Prof Fitzgerald said: “It is suggested that the same genes that produce autism and Asperger’s syndrome are also responsible for great creativity and originality.

“Asperger’s syndrome gave Darwin the capacity to hyperfocus, the extra capacity for persistence, the enormous ability to see detail that other people missed, the endless energy for a lifetime dedication to a narrow task, and the independence of mind so critical to original research.”

Darwin was a solitary child – as many people with Asperger’s syndrome are, Prof Fitzgerald said and his emotional immaturity and fear of intimacy extended to adulthood. He avoided socializing and took long solitary walks, walking the same route daily. He was a compulsive letter writer, but these were almost devoid of social chat.

Darwin was a great collector. As a child he hoarded insects and shells, and while at university he became obsessed with chemistry and gadgets.

Professor Fitzgerald said: “Darwin had a massive capacity to observe, to introspect and to analyse. From adolescence, he was a massive systematiser, initially of insects and other specimens which he catalogued. He had a tremendously visual brain. He spent eight years studying barnacles, and wrote books on his observations of earthworms and even his own children. He was a rather obsessive-compulsive and ritualistic man.

“Creativity is extremely complex, and so far no theory or model of brain function has been able to explain it fully. But I hope that future progress in understanding the basis of autism may lead to a better understanding of autistic creativity and creativity in general.”

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