8 famous people you didn’t know were neurodivergent 

12 July, 2023, 11:12am GMT

Chloe Mumford

By Chloe Mumford

Purple paper head silhouette on a blue background with green brain cutout,  neurodivergence concept

You may be surprised to find out that many famous minds who have shaped our culture and history were/are in fact neurodivergent. Neurodivergence, a unique way of perceiving and interacting with the world, has played a significant role in the lives of these celebrated figures.

These examples remind us that neurodivergence is not confined to any particular walk of life, and its potential for extraordinary contributions is limitless. It serves as a powerful reminder that we never truly know the hidden depths within the people we encounter every day.

Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein was a famous physicist who is theorised to have been on the autism spectrum. Experts have supported this claim by identifying traits that Einstein had, and traits outlined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) that correlate to those on the autism spectrum.  

As a child, Einstein experienced delayed speech development, which is a common characteristic of autism. He was mute until after his third birthday. When he started talking, to ensure he pronounced words properly, he would say the sentences to himself under his breath before he said it out loud. 

As an adult, Einstein displayed more characteristics of autism. More specifically, he needed to follow a routine, which he in turn made his wife follow. This included three meals a day served in his room, strict expectations for cleanliness, and the organisation of his study and desk. Additionally, he preferred to spend time alone over socialising.  

A study on genetic evidence for shared etiology of autism and prodigy reveals a potential chromosomal link between being a genius and being on the autism spectrum. Einstein’s ideas revolutionised our understanding of space, time, and the fundamental laws of the universe. His intellect, creativity, and ability to think outside the box allowed him to make profound scientific discoveries that continue to shape our world today.

Bill Gates

It has been suggested that the successful CEO of Microsoft has Asperger’s syndrome, however he himself has not publicly confirmed it.

Some of the traits he exhibits include rocking to-and-fro, which for many with autism is a vestibular stim (a behaviour that helps to self-soothe and focus attention). Bill Gates also has remarkable memory – he can memorise very long passages from the Bible without mistakes. Furthermore, he occasionally displays shortened and monotonous speech patterns, and avoids eye contact.

However, as I said, nothing is confirmed, therefore having processes in place that adapt to everyone is crucial. You never know what support people will need without getting to know them better.

Richard Branson

Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin Group, has openly talked about his diagnosis of dyslexia and ADHD, which he received in his twenties. Branson didn’t perform well academically, dropping out of school at 15. On his last day, his headmaster told him he would either “end up in prison or become a millionaire”. Luckily, it was the latter.  

Branson is a vocal advocate of neurodiversity. He has said “the world needs a neurodiverse workforce to help try and solve some of the big problems of our time. Many people on the autism spectrum excel in areas such as logic, technology skills, problem-solving, pattern recognition, precision, sustained concentration, analysis and other unique cognitive functions.” 

Furthermore, he views neurodiversity as something that’s had a positive impact on this life. “I’ve been incredibly blessed—blessed with dyslexia, blessed with faults, blessed with positive things as well.”

A study by Cass Business School in London found that around 40% of world’s top-earning self-made entrepreneurs showed signs of dyslexia. Indeed, it does seem many could argue that dyslexia has been a blessing that has given them a competitive edge. 

Charles Darwin 

Michael Fitzgerald, a leading psychiatrist and professor at Trinity College,  has published a paper describing his theory that Charles Darwin, who is widely known for his contributions to evolutionary biology, had Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism.

He based his conclusion on records that claim that when Darwin was a child, he was very quiet and isolated, avoiding interaction with others and kept to himself. This led him to find alternative ways of communication, such as writing letters to people. Additionally, Darwin was fixated on topics such as chemistry and was a visual thinker.

“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.”

Greta Thunberg 

The young Swedish environmental activist, Greta Thunberg who’s widely known for challenging world leaders, has been diagnosed with autism, Asperger’s, OCD, and selective mutism.

Talking about her diagnosis, Thunberg says “I have Aspergers and that means I’m sometimes a bit different from the norm. And – given the right circumstances – being different is a superpower.” 

She believes that her differences help her. Her blunt way of speaking can make for passionate and compelling speeches. To her, it’s her superpower, and without it, she wouldn’t have achieved what she has at such a young age. 

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson, the 3rd U.S. President, is believed to have had autism, however, this is mostly speculation. Unfortunately, most of the documents from his early life burned down with his childhood home, so researchers base their assertions on documents that have been written about him.

In one example, Alexander Hamilton stated that Jefferson struggled with making eye contact, and while Hamilton uses it to accuse him of dishonesty, researchers suppose this to possibly be a sign of autism. Additionally, similar to Darwin, Jefferson preferred to write to people rather than speak face-to-face, and was uncomfortable with public speaking. He also avoided socialising and struggled to relate to others. Moreover, he is referenced to have a sensitivity to loud noises and followed strict routines in his daily life, all of which are common symptoms for people on the autism spectrum.  

Sir Isaac Newton

Researchers at Cambridge University believe that Sir Isaac Newton, who is best known for his theory on the law of gravity and motion, and inventing calculus, was on the autism spectrum.  

Accounts show that Newton regularly isolated himself, and was described as ‘awkward’ when it came to conversations. Additionally, it was claimed that he wasn’t great at keeping friends, and like Einstein and Jefferson, relied on strict routines, which included self isolation and 18 hours of study per day. It’s been suggested that Newton was so focused on his work, that he often went for days at a time without eating or sleeping. 

Emily Dickinson 

Emily Dickinson, renowned as being one of the most influential figures in American poetry, is also theorised to be on the autism spectrum. This is identified from traits found from accounts of her life. She’s known to have lived a rather reclusive lifestyle, getting along best with children, wearing white clothing almost exclusively, and had a strong fascination with scented flowers.

Dickinson’s biographer, Lyndall Gordon, insists that Dickinson’s epilepsy is what made her so reclusive. More recently, medical professionals uncovered links between autism and epilepsy.

Final Thoughts 

Did you know that these famous figures are diagnosed or could’ve been diagnosed as neurodivergent? It’s impossible to tell as historically many neurodivergent individuals mask their symptoms in order to avoid isolation, face negative social repercussions and stigma. This demonstrates the great need for neuroinclusivity. Businesses must have strategies to support everyone – neurotypical, neurodivergent, and people who have not been diagnosed. 

Employees are not required to disclose neurodiversity, nor should they have to. Workplace support needs to be all-encompassing. Not having an inclusive, neurodiversity-friendly workforce strategy could inhibit neurodiverse talent from thriving. You probably wouldn’t want to prevent people with minds like Einstein and Dickinson from joining your business?


At the UWI our aim is to help organisations develop a workforce that inspires and builds self-esteem, that embraces diversity, equality and inclusion. 

Get in touch with us today, and we’ll help you create the mindset, positive habits, behaviours, and tools to create a neuroinclusive workplace.