In his book Unstrange Minds: Remapping the World of Autism, author Roy Richard Grinker mentions chess legend Bobby Fischer (p. 63) as someone who may have been an undiagnosed autistic. When I read David Edmonds’ book Bobby Fischer Goes to War: How A Lone American Star Defeated the Soviet Chess Machine, I thought the same thing. (For more discussion on the subject check out the Bobby Fischer talk page on Wikipedia.)
I can’t help wondering, if Fischer were indeed autistic, how would his life – and the history of chess, among other things – have been different if he had been diagnosed when he was young? If he had been provided the treatment and services that are typically demanded today for Asperger’s diagnoses, would he have had the impact he did? Would he have been able to have that impact, or would that ability have been “treated” out of him?
You can extend this to any of the great minds that people sometimes say were probably autistic, like Newton, Einstein, Van Gogh. You could also look at those who have been diagnosed with Asperger’s as an adult and think back on how things may have been different, for them and their contributions, if they had been diagnosed younger.
There is no doubt (in my mind, anyway) that the increase in diagnoses of autism, especially Asperger’s, is due in large part to a better understanding of what Asperger’s is and an increased desire of parents to understand why their kids are “different”. Many are being diagnosed now that might not have been diagnosed before, and demanding (and receiving) treatment they may not have received before.
Today, most people – parents, really – who seek an autism diagnosis do so because they want to know what’s wrong and how to “fix” it. I can’t help wondering what these individuals – and the world – may be missing out on because we want to catch and “fix” their differences early in life.
Of course, a diagnosis doesn’t have to lead to a “fix”. What if a diagnosis were used to let parents and autistics better understand why they are the way they are? That is something they could use to help themselves as they shape their own future.
Just imagine what that world might look like.