This list will introduce you to some inspirational musicians with autism. The list includes musicians who have been officially diagnosed, as well as others who have expressed that they consider themselves to be on the autistic spectrum.
The following artists prove that despite being challenged socially and having confusing childhoods, they haven’t let anything get in the way of their achievements. This list features all sorts of autistic musicians, from classical musicians to rock stars.
Autistic Musicians & singers
Here are some famous musicians with or autism or Asperger’s that you should know about.
20. The AutistiX
Hailing from the UK, The AutistiX play with elements of experimental rock. Inspired by bands that pioneered their sounds, such as Nirvana and The Rolling Stones, The AutistiX pair heavy guitar riffs with an unpolished garage sound.
The band contains three musicians with autism – Jack Beaven Duggan, Luke Steels, and Saul Zur-Szpiro – but that hasn’t stopped them from completing multiple international tours and releasing several albums and singles.
Instead of trying to hide their autism, the band weave it into their music, aiming to reduce the stigma attached to the disorder and encourage similar musicians to do the same.
19. James Durbin
You may recognise the name James Durbin from his appearance in the 10th season of American Idol, in which he placed 4th. However, Durbin is pursuing his musical dream while being open about his struggles with autism.
After receiving his diagnosis at the age of 10, Durbin started playing the guitar as a form of therapy. The autistic singer was able to tune into the instrument, centring his focus and developing his skills. He claims that being on the autism spectrum is like having an “extra sprinkle of genius” and refuses to see it as a disability.
Durbin was the lead singer of Quiet Riot, a heavy metal band, for 2 years, and is still releasing new albums.
18. Craig Nicholls (The Vines)
Craig Nicholls’ story highlights how little we know about behaviour disorders. Nicholls was the frontman of the Australian rock band The Vines, who formed in 1994. The band rose to prominence in the early 2000s, causing significant changes in the members’ lives over that period.
For someone on the autism spectrum, erratic schedules and sensory overload can be damaging to their well-being, as was the case for Nicholls. He, reportedly, fell out with many people around him and was prone to destructive episodes.
It wasn’t until he was facing charges that he got his diagnosis, offering an explanation for his unpredictability. He has since been working to find a way to blend his disorder with his rock and roll calling.
17. Johnny Dean (Menswear)
Johnny Dean is a British musician best known for his work during the Britpop era and being frontman to the group Menswear.
Dean received his pervasive developmental disorder diagnosis in 2009 and expressed that he had experienced internal torment before knowing what was causing his discomfort. He now campaigns on behalf of the National Autistic Society to raise more awareness of the disorder.
While being Menswear’s frontman, Dean toured worldwide, featured on Top of the Pops, and appeared in several magazines. Throughout the 2010s, the autistic singer continued to play sold-out shows in aid of numerous charities.
16. Travis Meeks (Days of the New)
Travis Meeks, born in Indiana, is a self-proclaimed introvert who struggled to make friends growing up. Luckily, he managed to find respite with music. He is best known as the guitarist and singer of the alternative rock band Days of the New.
Meeks’ diagnosis journey wasn’t an easy one. Doctors diagnosed him with various other disorders such as paranoia and bipolar until he eventually received his Asperger’s Syndrome diagnosis in 2005.
Despite constantly changing medications throughout his youth, and admitting he still struggles with personal relationships, Meeks hasn’t let his autism disrupt his dreams.
Autism is a disorder that has, unfortunately, had most of its research focused on men while women who suffer have remained in the dark about their condition. This is one reason why Ladyhawke, aka Pip Brown, only received her Asperger’s diagnosis in 2006.
Despite only having a mild form of the behavioural disorder, Brown has claimed that there are times when it has affected her ability to perform. She convinces herself that she’s no good and everybody’s judging her.
Pip Brown has proven that it won’t beat her, however. One of the great autistic musicians of our time, the artist has been nominated for several awards, including Brit and NME awards, and won six New Zealand Music Awards.
Elliot John Gleave, better known by his stage name Example is a successful British musician who has been nominated for numerous awards throughout his career.
Example was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) when he was young, noticing that he had an interest in numbers and history over fiction books.
Although not making his disorder obvious, Example hasn’t shied away from speaking about his life with autism as noted in his track ‘Come Taste The Rainbow.’ In his music, he also discusses how he used to use drugs to try to cope with how he was feeling.
13. Abz (Five)
Take yourself back to the late 1990s and I may remind you of Five, a British boy band who enjoyed moderate success in their prime.
In 2013, Five member Abz Love entered the Big Brother house where he struggled to “come out of his shell” with the other housemates. It wasn’t until later in the confession room that Love revealed he is dealing with Asperger’s syndrome. He explains that this behaviour disorder was preventing him from bonding with the other contestants.
Abz Love didn’t let his autism affect him exploring his career (and being a 90s heartthrob) – a true inspiration for all.
12. Susan Boyle
Susan Boyle shocked the nation, especially Simon Cowell, when she sang ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ from the musical Les Misérables on the XFactor.
The moment she opened her mouth cemented her audition in XFactor history, as everyone from the judges, to the audience, to Ant and Dec, doubted her based solely on her appearance. Within a single performance, Boyle forced the country to self-reflect on their preconceptions of people.
Since the talent show, Susan Boyle has released several albums and toured the globe. She has become one of the most famous autistic musicians in the world. Her journey, which has broadly increased autism awareness, has inspired many.
11. Courtney Love
We know Courtney Love for many things – autism is not one of them. Despite being diagnosed as a child, her disorder has rarely come up, with many not knowing that she has it. She revealed her diagnosis in a 1994 Rolling Stone interview and has even performed at several benefit events.
Her autism has failed to be a detriment to her career, however, as Love is a highly prolific artist and actress who has been nominated for several Grammy Awards.
She has also had a significant impact on young female rockers who have looked to her for inspiration thanks to her unapologetic persona. Love certainly hasn’t let autism impede being the performer that she is. She is undoubtedly of the great female musicians with autism of our time.
10. Adam Young (Owl City)
Although never formally diagnosed, Adam Young of Owl City believes he has “some form of autism,” potentially Asperger’s syndrome.
The singer often refers to himself as deeply shy and socially introverted, common traits of those with the disorder. That being said, people who have these characteristics aren’t necessarily on the autistic spectrum.
For Young, simply having a conversation over the phone was too stressful and would often conduct interviews over email. Performing in front of enormous crowds may seem like his worst nightmare however, he claims that getting lost in the music calms him down.
9. Marty Balin (Jefferson Airplane)
Rock and roll band Jefferson Airplane was partially founded by Marty Balin, a musician with autism who enjoyed a long career in the industry.
When he was a child, Balin had a fascination with the arts, igniting his interest and talent with music. His style ranged from psychedelic rock to punk and met huge commercial success.
When the songwriter was a child, he was diagnosed with autism, something he would initially keep under wraps. As he got older – and more famous – Balin devoted much of his time to autism-focused projects including a documentary that explored the lives of three families living with autism.
Throughout her flourishing career, Björk has always had an air of the unusual about her. Her vocal style, experimental music, and seemingly deep passion for the arts has made her an object of fascination for many musicians.
Although to our knowledge, she has never been officially diagnosed, Björk herself believes, as she told Rolling Stone, she falls somewhere on the autistic spectrum, and many of her fans agree. With her followers picking up on her awkward, yet kind disposition, paired with her musical intelligence, several have written personal statements expressing how the singer has helped them accept who they are.
7. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Let’s journey back to the 1700s when Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was rocking the clubs with his classical compositions. Despite his short life, Mozart was arguably the most prolific composer of his time, composing over eight-hundred works from operas, to concertos, to symphonies.
Rumour has it that the composer could learn a piece of music in half an hour at just four years old, and began writing symphonies when he was eight.
Possessing this God-given gift for music was spectacular, but it came with traits that we would associate with autism today. For example, loud sounds would make him physically ill thanks to his delicate hearing, and he often engaged in dangerous activities, never being able to perform self-control.
6. David Byrne (Talking Heads)
David Byrne of the Talking Heads has always been the poster child for individualism. From his music to his stage presence, Byrne has always known how to be a little different.
The musician has what he describes as “mild Asperger’s,” and has declared that the condition is a vital ingredient to his artistry.
Claiming that each of us “doesn’t know how to be any way except the way we are” illuminated a new way of looking at autism. His words championed celebrating the difference in everyone instead of trying to squeeze society into boxes that are more “comfortable” for people who don’t understand.
5. Michael Jackson
This list hasn’t been compiled to make any grand diagnosis proclamations, however, despite no official confirmation, numerous fans suspect that Michael Jackson fell somewhere on the autistic spectrum.
His shy personality and struggle to relate to people have been put down to his unconventional childhood. However, some fans struggle with this theory as his brothers experienced the same upbringing and have all come out the other side routinely.
Jackson’s social immaturity is a common symptom of Asperger’s and paired with his unrelenting musical genius, it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to claim the singer autistic.
4. Ludwig van Beethoven
Much like Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven was a musical genius. And also much like Mozart, Beethoven’s genius has been considered a symptom of autism.
Back in 1770, Asperger’s and autism were unheard of, however, Beethoven did display some character traits that coincide with the behavioural disorder. The composer was awkward and frank in his communication. He found it difficult to relate to people on a personal level and his actions could be erratic and unpredictable.
Despite these first-hand struggles, it didn’t take long for Beethoven to be seen as one of music’s most gifted minds and so his legacy remains. Whilst it’s impossible to confirm, it could well be that one of the greatest classical composers of all time was indeed autistic.
3. Gary Numan
‘Cars’ singer Gary Newman is best known for his heavy synthesiser riffs and his work pioneering electronic music in the 1980s.
Newman himself is convinced he lands somewhere on the autistic spectrum after completing a series of online tests from a university in the US. He claims, however, that when he was a kid, there were no formal diagnostic criteria for such mental health issues.
The singer also says that he struggles in social situations with strangers that feel uncontrolled. While he feels calm talking in a one-on-one interview, small talk and schmoozing are not an arrow in Newman’s quiver.
2. Joe Walsh (The Eagles)
Joe Walsh, best known for his work with the rock band The Eagles, has revealed he has Asperger’s syndrome.
Walsh has spoken about his childhood and the difficulties he faced as a young lad. He believed that he was difficult and felt “stupid and alone” amongst other children. As the musician grew up in the 50s and 60s, there was still barely any information on the subject of autism and certainly no diagnosing process.
Now, Walsh has made his diagnosis known to the world and has spoken to huge crowds about the challenges you face while growing up with autism.
Does this one surprise you?
Much like Michael Jackson, Eminem has never had an official (and public) diagnosis of autism. However, there is far too much speculation not to include him on this list. The rapper himself claimed he was on the autistic spectrum in his track ‘Legacy.’
Many music fans, even those who aren’t entertained by rap, consider Eminem to be a musical genius. His ear for catchy melodies and a seemingly endless supply of rhymes have earnt him worldwide admiration and several awards. Who knows – maybe his genius is a symptom of his autism.
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