10 famous and successful women with Autism
Autism spectrum disorder affects one’s ability to communicate and interact with others to varying degrees.
Some people believe that women with Autism won’t live normal lives let alone become successful and famous.
But the women whose stories you are about to read didn’t allow autism keep them down. They shone bright like diamonds in their different chosen fields.
Even when these women were viewed differently or denied opportunities, they confirm that differences cannot prevent them from doing what they love or shattering glass ceilings.
Here are 10 famous women with Autism who made a name for themselves:
1. Temple Grandin
She revolutionized the livestock industry with her focus on the humane treatment of animals, was diagnosed with autism as a child.
But Grandin went on to earn countless accolades, including a doctoral degree, and her life inspired an Emmy-award winning HBO film starring Claire Danes.
In fact, Grandin is one of many women diagnosed with autism who have gone on to break down barriers across fields ranging from entertainment to anthropology.
2. Daryl Hannah
Daryl Hannah is an American actress known for her roles in Splash, Kill Bill, Wall Street, and Steel Magnolias. In 2013, Hannah revealed that she had been struggling with Asperger’s syndrome for years, causing extreme social anxiety. The actress was diagnosed as a child, and recalls doctors prescribing numerous medications and even suggesting institutionalization. Instead, she focused on her passions, such as acting, ballet, and campaigning for the environment.
3. Valerie Paradiz
Valerie Paradiz is an autism activist who was diagnosed with the disability after the birth and diagnosis of her own son. She has spent her career working at various autism institutes throughout the country, and is currently on the board of directors for Autism Speaks, which works to find solutions for those living with the disorder across the spectrum. Paradiz speaks nationally and internationally about autism, emphasizing the talents of people with autism.
4. Heather Kuzmich
Heather Kuzmich rose to fame as a contestant on America’s Next Top Model in 2007, where she finished as fourth runner-up. During her time on the reality series, Kuzmich discussed her Asperger’s syndrome, which she was diagnosed with at the age of 15, as the reasoning behind her difficulty with some of the challenges within the competition. After the series, Kuzmich signed to Elite Model Management and was featured in People, The New York Times, and was even the cover star for Spectrum Magazine, a publications for those who have autism.
5. Phillipa Margaret Brown, aka Ladyhawke
Phillipa Margaret Brown, better known as “Ladyhawke” — a nod to Michelle Pfeiffer’s character in the 1985 film of the same name — is an indie rock musician who has released three solo albums. Born in New Zealand in 1979, Brown attributes her childhood spent engrossed in music to her Asperger’s diagnosis. But her knack for the guitar has paid off: Brown has exploded on the New Zealand music scene and went home with six awards at the 2009 New Zealand Music Awards.
6. Lizzy Clark
British actress Lizzy Clark, who was born in 1994, gained popularity for her role in the 2008 TV movie, Dustbin Baby. In the movie, she plays Poppy, a character who, just like Clark, has Asperger’s syndrome. The role marked the first time an actress with Asperger’s played a character with the condition, causing Clark’s mother to launch a campaign against actors without mental disabilities portraying disabled characters. The campaign, “Don’t Play Me, Pay Me,” is a resource for mentally disabled actors and works with schools to encourage students with disabilities to take up acting.
7. Henriett Seth F.
Henriett is a world-renowned writer, artist and poet. Born on Oct. 27, 1980, she is known as an autistic savant in that her creative skills far surpass the abilities of most. At age 8, she was playing the flute; by age 9, she was writing poetry; and by age 19, she was racking up awards for her surrealist paintings and poetry in her native Hungary. But she didn’t have it easy: When Henriett was a child, she was denied entrance to all of the primary schools in her town due to her struggles with communication and maintaining eye contact. Today, she is a celebrated author whose paintings have been on display in Hungary.
8. Liane Holliday Willey
Willey, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome at 35, has written numerous inspiring self-help books for those with autism and has taught at the university level for over 15 years. She holds a doctorate in education, with a specialty in psycholinguists. Born in 1959, as a child, Willey found extreme discomfort in unfamiliar places, noise, and people who came too close to her. Today, she is a well-respected motivational speaker and equine therapy advocate who makes it her mission to bring people together despite their differences.
9. Donna Williams
Donna Williams was born in Australia in 1963. She was called “deaf,” “disturbed” and “stupid” as a child, and it was only after she was diagnosed with autism at the age of 25 that she began to truly embrace herself and her experiences. In 1992, Williams published the international bestseller Nobody Nowhere: The Remarkable Autobiography of an Autistic Girl, which tells the story of her rise to independence and creative success. Williams published two additional books focused on autism and went on to be an international public speaker and autism consultant. She passed away in 2017 after a battle with breast cancer.
10. Jessica-Jane Applegate
When she was just 15, Applegate became the first British woman with Asperger’s to win a gold medal at the Paralympic Games. She brought home the gold for the Women’s 200m freestyle at the London games and went on to win three more medals the following year at the IPC World Championships in Montreal: gold in the 200m freestyle, silver in the 200m medley, and bronze in the 100m freestyle. Applegate, who was born on August 22, 1996, dipped into a pool for the first time when she was just a few months old when her mother took her to a local swimming club. By age 10, Applegate began competing regularly, and she has gone on to shatter records, all while visiting schools and swim groups across the UK to share her inspiring story.
Autism is a developmental disorder with symptoms that appear within the first three years of life. Its formal diagnostic name is autism spectrum disorder.
The word “spectrum” indicates that autism appears in different forms with varying levels of severity.
That means that each individual with autism experiences their own unique strengths, symptoms, and challenges.
Understanding more about ASD can help you better understand the individuals who are living with it.
Psychiatrists and other clinicians rely on the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to define autism and its symptoms. The DSM-5 definition recognizes two main symptom areas:
- Deficits in social communication and interaction
- Restricted, repetitive behaviors, interests, or activities
These symptoms appear early in a child’s development—although diagnosis may occur later. Autism is diagnosed when symptoms cause developmental challenges that are not better explained by other conditions.