Photo Credit: John Phillips/UK Press via Getty Images
Susan Boyle is ready to talk about her Asperger's. A year ago, the singer was diagnosed with the syndrome, which is now known in the psychiatric community as autism spectrum disorder. In a new interview for the British Observer, Boyle describes her diagnosis as "a relief" after years of being misunderstood.
"Some articles have said I have brain damage... I have always known that I have had an unfair label put upon me," Boyle told the reporter. "I have Asperger's."
A high-functioning form of autism, Asperger's is characterized by a specific kind of social awkwardness; difficulty understanding nonverbal cues like facial expressions, a tendency to say inappropriate things without realizing it, and so forth. Boyle says she's always felt different from other people, and is frequently mistaken for being unintelligent. Now that she understands what's actually happening, she's been able to go into the world with confidence.
"Asperger's doesn't define me. It's a condition that I have to live with and work through, but I feel more relaxed about myself," says Boyle. "People will have a greater understanding of who I am and why I do the things I do."
Though many, many people live with Asperger's -- up to 1 in 500 children, by one estimate -- there have been few famous names associated with autism spectrum disorders. That's starting to change. This fall, Daryl Hannah came forward to talk about her own autism, which manifests itself mostly as "debilitating shyness." Fame hasn't been easy for either of these women, but they're living proof that people with autism can achieve great success.
There's still much about the autism spectrum that is unknown, but as younger generations come of age, we expect to see more people embracing their diagnoses with pride. So far, however, no male celebrity has been brave enough to come forward. Hopefully Boyle inspires a few more people to share their stories.