It’s April, which means Autism Acceptance Month has arrived. The past few years have reflected a growing awareness of what autism is and how society can better understand and include autistic people. Thanks in part to social media platforms like TikTok and Twitter, previously held–and harmful–beliefs about life on the spectrum are being challenged, giving a much-needed and validating spotlight on everyday autistic people and the autistic individuals throughout time who’ve made an impact on wider culture.
In this article, I’d like to present a short timeline of four autistic musicians who’ve built a legacy for themselves in the world of music.
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (b. 1769)
Although autism did not exist as a formal diagnosis in his time, many experts today generally agree that Mozart was on the spectrum. A certifiable child prodigy, Mozart possessed a perfect musical memory and an extreme aversion to loud sounds (so much so that they’d make him physically ill), traits that have been said to be hallmark signifiers of autism. The composer was also said to have a short attention span, as well as the ability to complete a “cycle of facial expressions” within seconds. Combined with his rather unconventional methods of composing using a billiard ball,
- Gary Numan (b. 1958)
Best known as the frontman of new wave band Tubeway Army and later as the soloist behind the 1979 hit single “Cars”, musician and “father of synth pop” Gary Numan has confirmed he has autism. “A child psychologist diagnosed me with Asperger’s, I must have been about 14”, Numan shared in a 2018 interview with The Guardian. He’s stated that he struggles with eye contact and socializing, but overall sees his diagnosis as a positive thing. As said in a 2020 interview, “I see it as a positive advantage to my life, an enhancement to who I am and what I am.”
- Ladyhawke (b. 1979)
Ladyhawke (born Phillipa Margaret “Pip” Brown) is a New Zealand singer-songwriter who rose to new wave fame as part of the Wellington-based band Two Lane Blacktop (2001–2003). The year after, she formed the art rock band Teenager with Nick Littlemore of Pnau. Diagnosed with Asperger’s as a child, Ladyhawke believes that the large amount of her childhood obsession with music, be it on the radio or to her mother’s Beatles albums, was attributable to being on the spectrum. In a 2008 interview with NME, Ladyhawke shared an all-too common experience among autistic people: “People shouldn’t be scared of it or anything. Some people don’t even realise that they have it. I went through my whole life not knowing until only a few years ago, when it was just doing my head in and I had to get help.”
- Adam Young (b. 1986)
Adam Young is the creative force, multi-instrumentalist, and only constant member behind Owl City, a group perhaps best recognized for their nostalgic indie-rock-to-mainstream hit “Fireflies” (2009). In a 2012 interview, Young described himself as a shy introvert who had symptoms of Asperger’s (no longer an officially used term), though he hadn’t received a diagnosis at the time. A devout Christian, Young states that his faith is more important to him than music.