What do Newton, Einstein and Turing have in common? Yes, they are famous scientists, but all are also thought to have exhibited traits of autism.
On a more frivolous note, Star Trek's Mr Spock is clearly autistic - huge logical brain combined with complete lack of social etiquette, another key trait of autism - yet everyone on the Star Ship Enterprise accepts him for what he is and understands what a valuable role he plays. As we recently celebrated Mental Health Awareness Week, it is time that society recognises and embraces autistic people on Earth in a similar fashion.
Autism is a lifelong condition that affects the way a person communicates and relates to people around them. It's referred to as an autism spectrum because it affects different people in different ways. The more seriously affected, or 'low-functioning' autistic people have learning difficulties and require high levels of support. At the other end of the spectrum people with high-functioning autism (or Asperger's Syndrome) often have above average intelligence and, with the right support, can go on to be very successful in their chosen field.
Indeed, the high-functioning autistic brain can be very, very good at certain things, in particular the ability to think logically and the ability to focus and concentrate intensely for long periods of time.
This turns out to be the perfect recipe for a career in science.
However, the current statistics are alarming. 85% of autistic adults are not in full time employment, over 40% of autistic children are bullied at school and over 25% have been excluded from school.
In my own case, I was lucky to have an early diagnosis and targeted support which enabled me to attend a mainstream school. Foreseeing that bullying would be a problem, my parents enrolled me in a local judo club at the age of eight, so by the time I got to senior school, not only was I not bullied, but other kids wanted to hang out with me for protection from the bullies.
My parents were scientists and so encouraged my interest in maths and physics from an early age - I could prove Pythagoras's theorem and calculate the volume of a sphere at seven.
I am now studying Physics at the University of Surrey. I still need some support in helping me to prioritise my work schedule, but luckily the Additional Learning Support Centre here assists in areas such as timetabling and mentoring, thanks to being in receipt of the Disabled Students' Allowance (DSA), making it clear to students that if there are any problems at all, they are there to help them. The University also offers a three-day induction programme which enables autistic students to settle in prior to the beginning of the term.
I am now entering adulthood employable, happy, and, because of my autism, with the possibility of doing something extraordinary in the field of science.
Autism needs to have more of a place in our society and we need to start celebrating the people who think differently.
When thinking about world crises such as climate change and the total lack of will and incompetence shown by world leaders in addressing such issues, we can only hope that logical-thinking autistic scientists will be given the right support to flourish and one day prove to be the world's saviours.
As Mr Spock once said: "Nowhere am I so desperately needed as among a shipload of illogical humans."Suggest a correction