Pin Me

Was Mozart Autistic? Exploring the Relationship Between Autism and Creativity

written by: Christina Garabedian • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 9/24/2010

Did you ever wonder if Mozart was autistic? In reviewing his letters to his family researchers have suggested ideas and have taken a closer look at his characteristics. Autistic and creativity; do the two words make sense together? Read on as we explore creativity and autism.

  • slide 1 of 8

    Was Mozart Autistic?

    Mozart was born in Salzburg, Austria in January 27, 1756. He started touring at the age of 6 with his father and wrote his first symphony at the age of 8. He was considered a child prodigy - with a the ability to listen to music and then replay it after only hearing it once.

    However, Mozart was also reported to have had repeated facial expressions, unintentional constant motion of hands and feet, and a tendency toward jumping. Furthermore, it has been said that Mozart's hearing was so intense and sensitive that loud sounds often effected him physically, making him sick. These behaviors have been regarded by some as auditory and motor fits or tics and their presence has been used to support the diagnosis of Tourettes syndrome or an autism spectrum disorder. Several characterizations of Mozart also describe him as being excessively active - a common trait for those with autism spectrum disorders.

    Karoline Pichler, daughter of the senior civil servant Franz Sales Von Greiner and a member of the intelligentsia in Vienna who had musical partnership with Mozart, characterized Mozart by saying that he could not carry on in any sort of intellectual magnitude. She described Mozart as existing in a careless and reckless way of life. Mozart also exhibited impolite and frequent mood changes. During one of his improvisations he became unexpectedly bored of it then decided to jumped up and hurdling over tables and chairs, pretending to meow like a cat and doing somersaults. The inappropriate behavior was explained as just a way for Mozart to display his boredom with the performance.

    Mozart also was reportedly fanatical about his wife's personal hygiene. He would request that she take a bath every other day for an hour and not to take one if he was not there. He also was frightened for his wife to leave the house alone - often having repetitive thoughts about it to the point of fixation.

    Many of the described behavior begs the question, "Was Mozart autistic?"

    Although some aspects of autism, such as continual body motion and certain distractions could be recognized in Mozart, other characteristic such as resisting change or wishing for sameness do not make Mozart autistic or a good candidate for autistic disorders.

    Of course we did not live in the 1700's to really prove whether or not Mozart was indeed autistic. In fact, the term "autistic" did not even come about till 1911, when Eugen Bleuler - a Swiss psychiatrist - used this term to describe a group of symptoms from those with schizophrenia. There would have been no way for Mozart to have this diagnosis if it didn't even exist.

  • slide 2 of 8

    Mozarts letters

    There was research conducted looking into letters that Mozart wrote to his family. In the 371 messages composed to his relatives, 23 of the letters displayed evidence of echolalia, along with many obscene words and gestures. The obscene remarks later suggested to researchers that there could have been an indication of Tourette's syndrome. Some believe the obscenity to be the way Mozart talked with his family members or an acceptable behavior for the South German Middle Class.

    In autism sometimes echolalic utterance is used as a way of communicating with others. The person with autism may not know what to say therefore repeating something that they had heard previously as of way of imitating a communicative interaction. The assessment of echolalia for the person may be that the echoed phrases and social cues become accumulated information for the person to mention of later as an internal recounting of the event.

    Would Mozarts letters to his family members answer the question, "Was Mozart autistic?" Or, perhaps these were indications Mozart suffered from Tourette's.

  • slide 3 of 8

    Continue reading on page two as we begin to look at the association between behaviors thought of as "autistic," and creativity.

  • slide 4 of 8
    Was Mozart autistic? Find the answer as we take a closer look at behaviors which are often labeled "autistic" and creativity. Is there a connection?
  • slide 5 of 8

    Was Mozart Autistic - Continued

    On page one of the article, we posed the question, "Was Mozart autistic?" On page two, we begin to explore a relationship between behaviors considered "autistic" and creativity

  • slide 6 of 8

    What is Creativity?

    What is considered creativity? What's creative to me may not be creative to someone else. As defined by the Random House 2010 dictionary creativity means;

    1. the state or quality of being creative.

    2. the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination: the need for creativity in modern industry; creativity in the performing arts.

    3. the process by which one utilizes creative ability: Extensive reading stimulated his creativity.

    In taking a look at Mozart, he would be considered a creative person by the definition of creativity - having the ability to create meaningful music by composing. He did not follow any rules or patterns of others composers of his time. Instead, his ideas were new and fresh open to endless possibilities.

  • slide 7 of 8

    Autistic and Creativity

    In defining autism it is stated that there is lack of normal creativity (DSM-IV), 1994; ICD-10, 1994). In 1972 there was a study conducted by Frith, who found that when given the choice to create patterns using different colored rubber stamps or xylophone notes, children with autism produced less different and assorted patterns as opposed to the controlled group. She indicated that they are indeed less creative.

    In 1991 Lewis and Boucher examined drawings created by children with autism. The content of the drawings was less varied, implying a lack of creativity. The experiments used the Torrance Creativity Test suggest that imaginative creativity is more difficult for the autistic than reality-based creativity.

    Michael Fitzgerald, Professor of Psychiatry at Trinity College in Dublin explains that the relationship between creativity and psychiatric disorders is not a myth. The characteristics linked to Autism Spectrum Disorder are connected to those who are considered to be a creative genius. He said the link between Autism, creativity and genius are common genetic causes and the genes for Autism/Asperger's and creativity are essentially the same.

    Telegraph quoted Prof. Fitzgerald, as saying. "These produce people who are highly focused, don’t fit into the school system, and who often have poor social relationships and eye contact. They can be quite paranoid and oppositional, and usually highly moral and ethical. They can persist with a topic for 20-30 years without being distracted by what other people think. And they can produce in one lifetime the work of three or four other people."

    Fitzgerald stated in an article entitled, " Genius, Creativity and Savantism":

    "The features of autism / Asperger’s syndrome that would enhance creativity would include intense focus on narrow interests. It is rarely possible to make major advances in science without this narrow intense focus. The lack of interest in emotional issues means that there is far more time available for intellectual mathematical, philosophical, and other scientific pursuits. Their time is not taken up with interpersonal relationships and with ordinary everyday life. They are often workaholics and their whole life is devoted to their creative pursuit. Persons with autism often have abnormal brain functioning and indeed brain structure and these deficits in some way enhance creativity. This kind of creativity has genetic underpinning of a type that has not yet been fully elucidated. Heritability factors account for about 93% of the variants in the aetiology of autism / Asperger’s syndrome"

    From personal experience I have witnessed those with behaviors considered autistic and creativity - having witnessed some beautiful artwork come from their minds. I do believe that some autistics may be more prone to creativity especially if it is in the house and they are around it every day. I have even witnessed a very imaginative book being created by a girl with autism who aspires to be a published author at the age of 9.

    We may never know whether Mozart was truly autistic. What we do know about behaviors considered "autistic" and creativity is that they can sometimes appear side-by-side.

  • slide 8 of 8

    Resources

    1. Stephen M. Edelson, Ph.D. Autism Research Institute. Research: Autistic Savants http://www.autism.com/fam_autistic_savants.asp and Overview of Autism http://albanna.us/Medical/child_psych_autism.htm

    2. The Mozart project http://www.mozartproject.org/index.html

    3. Jamie Craig and Simon Baron-Cohen, "Creativity and imagination in autism and Asperger syndrome", Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 1999, 29, 319-326 http://autismresearchcentre.com/docs/papers/1999_Craig_BC.pdf

    4. Professor Michael Fitzgerald http://www.professormichaelfitzgerald.eu/

    5. Aidin Ashoori, Joseph Jankovic. Mozart's movements and behaviour: a case of Tourette's syndrome? J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry 2007;78:1171-1175 doi:10.1136/jnnp.2007.114520 http://jnnp.bmj.com/content/78/11/1171.full?rss=1

    6. Deutsch OE Pichler K Memories (1843–44) In: Deutsch OE, eds. Mozart biography. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1965:556–7

    7. Anderson E. The letters of Mozart and his family, 3rd Edn. London: Macmillan, 1985

    8. Ringman JM, Jankovic J The occurrence of tics in Asperger syndrome and autistic disorder. J Child Neurol 2000;15:394–400.

    9. Dr. Angelica Ronald. Scientist reveal that autism and hyperactivity have the same cause. http://www.youramazingbrain.org/Res_1st_Angelica_Ronald.pdf