Autism’s Rock Stars.

Parents worry about the future of their children.  As special needs parents, we fear what will happen when our children graduate from school.  Where will they go?  What will they do for a living?  I don’t know the answers to any of these questions any more than any one else.

But instead of worrying on a Friday, I thought it would be fun to highlight some famous musicians with autism to show what has happened once that cute little child becomes an adult and decides to become a musical sensation.  I’m thinking I will try to steer my own son into some other career even though the last musician below, Hikari Oe, should be an inspiration to us all…

Craig Nicholls

Craig Nicholls from The Vines.

Craig Nicholls was the lead singer (frontman) of the Australian rock band, The Vines.  He was not ever diagnosed as a child with Asperger’s.  He sped to fame and ended up, as the story goes, alienating everyone in show business with his behavior, which supposedly included tearing up the sets of the Jay Leno and David Letterman shows (and being thrown off those sets) and kicking a photographer and smashing her camera.  Then, someone suggested that all his bad behavior might have a neurological disorder.  When he was facing charges, Dr. Tony Attwood diagnosed him.  The article concerning Nicholls’ behavior can be found here.  Here is what that story had to say:

Dr. Attwood explained to Nicholls that the lifestyle of a touring rock musician with its erratic schedule, constant changes and sensory overload was the worst career he could have possibly chosen for someone with his condition. He then recommended that Nicholls curtail his touring, create a recording studio in his home, improve his diet and stop smoking pot. Attwood emphatically stated that smoking marijuana was one of the worst things a person with Asperger´s can do to themselves.

Nicholls, allegedly, has spent the last seven years coming to terms with being a rock star on the autism spectrum. He’s taken long breaks, punctuated by the release of new music and a smattering of live performances. He is supposedly no longer a pot smoker and can’t even recall the many incidents that lead to the turning point in his life.

Here is a song he released after his diagnosis called “Get Free”:


Gary Numan

Gary Numan.

I thought this was the Gary Newman who wrote “Short People”.  Not.  This Gary Numan, a musician from the United Kingdom, has openly expressed his belief that he has a mild form of autism based on tests he took over the internet from a university in the U.S.  In an interview with Britain’s Mojo magazine, recounted here he said:

“When I was a kid, before there were proper diagnostic criteria for it, it was suggested that I might be suffering. “I did a brilliant series of tests online from a university in America, and I was deeply into the Asperger’s spectrum on there.” Numan reveals he’s fine in one-on-one interview situations because it’s a controlled question-and-answer session, but he’s very uncomfortable in social situations with strangers. He adds, “Small talk’s the problem. If we met in a bar, or after a show, there’s a good chance I’d be stand-offish, aloof, miserable, or awkward, because I don’t know what to say. I’m rubbish. “My interactions are semi-artificial, in that I know I’m not allowed to do this or that, because it would be considered rude or improper.”

Here’s a taste of that music, unfortunately, entitled “Crazier”:

Also, not my cup of tea.


Phillipa Pip Brown aka Ladyhawke

She is a musician who was born in New Zealand and revealed to a British newspaper that she has Asperger’s syndrome.  The article I found about her said her revealing this,

“suddenly shifted media interest from her music to her autism. Among other traits, the syndrome manifests itself typically in social communication difficulties and, according to the National Autistic Society, “limitations in imagination”. Hardly the stuff of show business legend, and entertainers with Asperger’s are few and far between…”

I found while I read information on all three of these musicians, there was a bias in the reports.  It was as though all the bad parts of the behaviors of these musicians was attributable to the autism rather than the person.  The same story says that she hated physical contact, shunned company and once locked herself in her house for three months.  After that three month lock up, she was diagnosed with Asperger’s.

Here is one of her songs.

She looks a bit uncomfortable doing this video to me…

And we all know about James Durbin from American Idol who is diagnosed with both Asperger’s and Tourette’s.  Here, he is doing “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” because I like it!

How could you not cheer this guy on?

Hikari Oe

Hikari Oe

This is an autistic, mentally challenged Japanese man who is an amazing composer of music of a classical nature. His father, Kenzaburo Oe, won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1994.  Hikari was born in 1963 with a life-threatening growth on his brain so large that it made him appear two-headed. His parents were confronted with the choice of letting their son die or subjecting him to an operation that, if he survived it, would leave him severely brain-damaged, incapable of living a normal life. His parents chose life.  Hikari is autistic, among other disabilities.

He did not speak until he was 6. Then one day, as the story goes, when father and son were walking in the woods, a bird burst into song, and Kenzaburo heard someone say, ”It’s a water rail.” Two years earlier, the Oes had acquired a record of birdcalls, identified by an announcer, and at first the novelist thought he must simply be remembering the voice on the record. Then the bird sang again, and the voice repeated the identification. It was Hikari, who had memorized all 70 birdcalls on the record.

He showed a love for classical music and by age 11, he was using piano lessons as a form of therapy.  At 13, he began composing music.  You can find his story here. Part of that story is this:

Hikari Oe’s music shows few traces of influences later than Brahms, and it is doubtful that he understands that his idiom is not contemporary. The language of Western classical music – Baroque, Classical, Romantic – is the only one he has truly mastered, and he seems to experience it as something not subject to change through time.

This immediacy gives his pieces a notable freshness and directness, and some of them have great emotional power. Now and again, effects are achieved through surprises – unexpected modulations or dynamic variations – that are reminiscent of the shifts in tone and bold juxtapositions in his father’s fiction.

Listen to his music as played in the background of this poem, which is also beautiful:

How about that Hikari?  How’s that for pure musical beauty?

Yes, so he not a “rock” star, but he does make beautiful, amazing music. And if you know his story, you know the story of deep love from his parents to their son.  You cannot deny they all have diverse, gifted musical talent.  And autism.

About solodialogue

I'm a lawyer and the mom of a 6 year old boy with autism. I work part time and spend the rest driving here and there and everywhere for my son's various therapies. Instead of trying cases, I now play Pac-man and watch SpongeBob. I wear old sweaters and jeans and always, always flat shoes to run after my son. Yeah, it's different but I wouldn't change it for anything. The love of my child is the most powerful, beautiful and rewarding aspect of my life.
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17 Responses to Autism’s Rock Stars.

  1. Grace says:

    Wow! I had never heard of The Vines before. Thanks for giving me something to rock out to on my lunch break!! (You and I should probably never attend any concerts together. . .haha)

  2. Big Daddy says:

    Great post. I know a few other “rock stars” with autism. They just haven’t been discovered by the general public yet.

  3. Lizbeth says:

    Thanks Karen–I had no idea! And I’m with Big Daddy, I know a few talented stars in my midst. I may keep mine away from touring and all the sensory overload that comes with the profession!

  4. Broot says:

    Pretty cool. I knew about LadyHawke but not the others. 🙂

  5. Tam says:

    cool post, Karen 🙂 It’s funny, I can sing (pretty well I think) and I’ve written a few songs. I have no trouble singing in public, do it at church all the time from the stage, but I have a hard time having a camera turned on me, so I’d never make it as a rock star lol.

  6. Lynn says:

    I knew about the guy from the Vines. He was notoriously off the rails and everyone just thought he was an addict. Glad to see hes doing better. The thing is that spectrummy folks can be so musical but the rest that goes along with the biz can be prohibitive.

    • solodialogue says:

      There is a lot of musical talent with ASD. It’s good awareness this (or any) month to explain to my typical family and friends that there are famous people (here -musicians) on the spectrum – many more who probably don’t become famous due to the overloads that come with performing.

  7. eof737 says:

    Brilliant… It was great reading about these fantastic, creative geniuses and I hadn’t heard anyone mention Gary’s name in ages… loved his music in my youth 🙂
    Thanks for sharing these with us.
    I’ve been on college visits with my twins hence my absence…
    Finally catching up on comments!

    • dawn brown says:

      Im wondering if someone could possibly help me with some information, I am located in sydney australia, and have 2 children on the autism spectrum, during a discussion with my youngest sons behavioural case worker we began discussing my eldest sons band, they have 3 people out of 5 with asd.
      This led us to a discussion about James Durbin, and have now decided to arrange a concert for awareness of musicians with asd. I have been given the full support of Aspect to arrange a rock concert as an awareness fundraiser.
      Does anyone know how i am able to contact any overseas artists to see if they would be interested in performing for our fundraiser?
      I already have 4 bands lined up who have people with asd.
      We are really passionate about this, my eldest son is not high functioning, and he is able to pick up any musical instrument, listen to the music and play it by ear.
      Also any support and help would be appreciated.

      • solodialogue says:

        Your son sounds amazingly talented! I wish I could help but I just wrote this to highlight musical talents of people with ASD. I do not know anyone who has connections to these people. Perhaps you could try on Twitter through @concert4autism, an organization related to music that may help. You might also try contacting @TheBuckNation through Twitter as well. I wish you great success with your concert!

  8. Taylor Wolf says:

    I have autism but it is so mild im not even considered special needs any more so would you recamend me following my dream of being a musician

  9. Pingback: Music Therapy and Autism: The Power of Music | TakeLessons Resources

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