Daryl Hannah's Brave Confession: I'm Autistic

The actress tells People she was diagnosed with autism as a child, and is doing well since she left Hollywood

Daryl Hannah has shied away from Hollywood for the past decade, and now we know why. In a new People story, the Kill Bill actress, 52, reveals that she is living with a form of autism.

Hannah says that she was diagnosed autistic as a child growing up in Chicago. Her diagnosis today would likely be Asperger Syndrome, which is on the autism spectrum -- but the terms "Asperger's" and "spectrum" weren't in use in the 1960s. Doctors suggested that Hannah should be medicated and institutionalized. Instead, she waited it out, watched lots of old movies, and fled to Hollywood when she turned 17.

But she couldn't run from her symptoms, which include "debilitating shyness," a need to rock her body back and forth to soothe herself, and being mentally "checked out" at times.

As she became famous, says Hannah, these symptoms proved a bigger and bigger challenge. She tells People that she didn't do press or attend her own premieres "not because I was above it, but because I was terrified." She wouldn't take meetings with intimidating movie executives, leading insiders to brand her as a diva. Her best friend tells the magazine that Hannah would get so nervous on the red carpet, she would literally shake.

In the profile, Hannah assures her fans that she's functioning better now that she's out of the limelight, essentially living off the grid in the Rocky Mountains. Focusing on environmental causes, her personal passion, has also helped; one of her friends tells people that when Hannah "feels passionate about something, she loses all her fears."

Though autism affects as many as 1 in 88 children, it's rare for high-profile adults to identify themselves as autistic. Most famous people whose names are linked with Asperger's -- Bill Gates, for example -- are purely the subject of speculation. We applaud Hannah's bravery in coming forward, knowing that she'll now be a face for women with Asperger's (which is much more commonly diagnosed in men). Even though Hannah struggled in Hollywood, she managed to achieve significant success in spite of her autism -- and that's the kind of inspiration that people on the spectrum, and the people who love them, can really use.

Donna Kaufman is a freelance writer and iVillage contributor. Find her on Twitter and Google+

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