Micheal Jackson and High Functioning Autism
Michael Jackson and Autism
Firstly what is Aspergers Syndrome and how exactly does it differ from the more commonly used American description of High Functioning Autism?
The following definitions have been taken from Wikipedia and more information about both definitions is available there.
High-functioning autism (HFA) is an informal term applied to autistic people who are deemed to be higher functioning than other autistic people, by one or more metrics.There is no consensus as to the definition,and HFA is not a recognised diagnosis in theDSM-IV-TRor theICD-10.
The amount of overlap between HFA and Asperger syndromeis disputed.Some researchers argue that the two are distinct diagnostic entities, others argue that they are indistinguishable.Asperger syndrome
Asperger syndrome (AS), also known as Asperger's syndromeorAsperger disorder, is an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that is characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction, alongside restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests. It differs from other autism spectrum disorders by its relative preservation of linguistic and cognitive development. Although not required for diagnosis, physical clumsiness and atypical use of language are frequently reported.
Without a doubt there can ever only be one Michael Jackson. Three years ago on the 25/06/2009 Michael Jackson's life was tragically over. At this stage it doesn’t matter whether you loved him or loathed him his iconic status is now forever immortalized as the greatest singer, dancer and showman of his era.
When I was about the age of eleven I myself went through a period of intense fascination with all things Michael Jackson. This I suppose would now be classed as my Aspergers Syndrome related area of special interest. My desire and interest in Michael Jackson was all consuming and it lasted for a few years.
This new found passionate interest of mine then completely dwarfed my previous insatiable interest in the Star Wars trilogy. This area had been a passionate love of mine for a number of years ever since that first moment when I set eyes on the nonchalant, swashbuckling Han Solo in sequel to the original Star Wars Film i.e. The Empire Strikes Back. Then I just couldn’t understand what kind of an ejet Princess Leia was to be letting on she wasn’t head over heels in love with Han Solo but instead seemed more interested in the troubled Luke Skywalker who I thought had a certain charming appeal about him too if you were into the force, light sabers and all that sort of thing.
Anyway not to veer too far off the main point of this article it has only been in the last year that I realized I myself am on the Spectrum i.e. I have Aspergers Syndrome. So lo and behold it is only now I realize that both Star Wars and Michael Jackson often become areas of special interest for children and teenagers who have Autism or Aspergers.
It’s a funny old world because up to now I was always led to believe that I was a bit on my own planet to be totally fascinated by these kinds of subjects. No other girl I knew was in the least bit interested in Science Fiction or the ultimate King of Pop. Now though I am much more enlightened and I know that these are perfectly normal pursuits for the young autistic individual.
So in recent times I have now become extremely interested in others like me i.e. people who never fitted in, had intense passions about certain things and also those people who have endlessly observed the neurotypical population and have tried to 'get them.'
So after a good bit of a think about this the following are reasons why I think Michael Jackson could certainly have had Aspergers Syndrome.
Intense Area of Special Interest for Michael Jackson
From a very young age Michael Jackson was obsessed by being the best. It is well documented that people on the autistic spectrum cannot cope with anything other than perfection when it is an area or a subject that really matters to them. For the young Michael Jackson it was music, song and dance.
Apparently while other kids were drinking Soda or kicking a ball around Michael Joseph Jackson was studying music records and playing them over and over until he could copy every note, each individual nuance and gesture to absolute perfection. He did the same when it came to dance moves. It took him many weeks to perfect his moonwalk and he was not happy with it until he could perform it as easily and naturally as breathing.
Social and Communication Issues and Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson was known to be extremely shy around other most people and always found it extremely difficult to makes friends. Yet once he got on the stage and performed he became a completely different person.
In my previous article i.e. Marilyn Monroe and Aspergers Syndrome I described how many people said the same thing about her i.e. when she was away from the camera’s she was very shy and insecure but all this changed when it was time to perform. Dr. Tony Attwood has also written about this aspect of Aspergers Syndrome i.e. people who are autistic don’t pick up social skills instinctively and instead they learn them through observation and practice.
So socializing is an intellectual activity as opposed to an instinctual one. None of it ever comes naturally and obviously over time it becomes exhausting and can lead to psychological issues, personality disorders or addiction problems. All of these were areas that Michael Jackson continued to have increasing difficulty with over his life span.
Michael Jackson’s withdrawal from the so called Neurotypical World.
Much as I admired and liked Michael Jackson’s music it did become more abstract over time. As the years passed it did seem to become less focused and more out of touch with reality. This is the danger for every person with Aspergers Syndrome i.e. the more we withdraw from the social world because of psychological scars the harder it subsequently becomes for us to then adequately relate and interact with the neurotypical world.
While there are times I could happily crawl under a rock and stay there for a good period of rest and recuperation it is not necessarily the best course of action for me to take to try to keep in touch with the NT world. Because as confusing and difficult as it can be at times to cope with it we do too actually need human contact, opinions and some degree of social interaction.
Relationship Difficulties and Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson was never able to maintain a long term relationship with anybody. He had two disastrous marriages and was hugely criticised for his friendships with young children. However whether this was because Michael Jackson really was forever stuck at a young psychological age or because of his own unorthodox childhood and his domineering and quite possibly narcissistic father or whether he was just trying to relive his missing youth we will now never know for sure.
However whatever the truth of the matter it many people with Asperges Syndrome do often tend to have many short term or ultimately disastrous romantic relationships. This is often because of their difficulties expressing their feelings and their inability to appreciate or empathise with a partners needs. Or other times it can be because of their rigid views, opinions and attitudes that they simply do not have the ability to waver from. Michael Jackson was often quoted as saying he craved a soul-mate but this was never really to be for him or Marilyn Monroe either for that matter. Although many people with Aspergers Syndrome who are not in the limelight can and do have successful lifelong relationships with other autistic people or with NT’s too.
Unusual Relationship with Food and Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson had very strange and unorthodox eating habits which are common in people with an autism spectrum disorder. He was a vegan most of his life and went through certain phases of eating only particular foods. At one point Michael Jackson would eat only carrots so much so that it is commented that his hands started to go kind of orange. It has also been widely speculated that he may have had an eating disorder which is another common problem in people who have Aspergers Syndrome as they can often become obsessed about their body weight and their need to always appear perfect.
Michael Jackson's Obsession with Cosmetic Surgery
Personally I can't stand looking in the mirror or looking at any holiday snaps of myself, for me this is actually akin to an excruciating level of torture. Why you might ask? I don't know I just always think I look diabolical in photographs and it is as if I have gained a 100 pounds, aged twenty years and just look more sub-human in every picture and I cannot bear studying my digital image.
For me on my bad mirror days I would gladly succumb to plastic surgery if I thought it could change some of what I see as being the worst problems about myself. This makes me wonder if Michael Jackson had these kind of thoughts every time he decided to nip or tuck, or change or get rid of certain parts of his appearance.
I think that Michael Jackson started off an attractive young teenager, natural and fresh faced. Then came his new look for the Thriller album which was perfect and if only he could have been happy with this image and maintained it. Instead though no matter what he saw reflecting back from his mirror he was never happy and always thought he could tweak his appearance a bit more.
Most possibly Michael Jackson's real image issues were internal and were to do with his lack of self-esteem and self worth. Also the cruel jibes his father always directed at Michael 's appearance when he was young obviously gave him serious self identity issues which ultimately led to an obsession which largely ruined a perfectly good looking man. This is a common danger for people on the Autism Spectrum.
Sleeping Difficulties, Insomnia and Michael Jackson
It can never be disputed that Michael Jackson had severe problems getting to sleep and then maintaining any kind of normal sleep pattern. For me this is a big problem too especially when your mind is intensely focused in on another subject and you just can’t switch it off. This a problem that seemed to escalate for Michael Jackson as the years progressed and led to him seeking more and more medication to just allow his mind to switch off.
Unfortunately for Michael Jackson this ultimately became the cause of his death. He was under a lot of pressure to get back up there on that stage to try and clear his massive debts. For Michael though it meant he had to still be the best and how was he possibly going to achieve this unless he could get the rest he needed to perform at his optimum level.
Many people with Aspergers Syndrome often incessantly wander their houses at night, their brains whirring and then they spend the next day exhausted because they are still extremely sleep deprived.
Psychological Issues and Michael Jackson
There can be no denying that fact that Michael’s mental health was in a very fragile state for most of his adult life. His stage performances were legendary and having personally witnessed him in concert myself many years ago I can honestly say it was the greatest performance I have ever seen in terms of energy, talent, special effects and emotion.
When it came to captivating his fans Michael Jackson was in a league of his own. However behind the ‘greatest performer on earth,’ mask what kind of a state was Michael Jackson the man in? Personally I know how hard the person with Aspergers Syndrome can be on themselves.
Unfortunately it’s simply no good for the Aspergers brain to just pass their exams and get a good result. If you get 10, 99% grades then I know that the Aspergers brain will often instantly retort, ‘but what was wrong with you that you didn’t even get one 100% grade? Tut, tut, tut, what a failure you are,’ the autistic brain often sarcastically adds.
So for someone like Michael Jackson who achieved massive success before he even hit his teens this level of early stardom meant that he was on a very high pedestal career wise very early on in his life. So staying there for the rest of his life was just an impossible achievement. Instead once Michael Jackson’s popularity started to wane it was a long and slow decline that must have been pure unadulterated torture for someone with an autistic brain.
Nobody can say for sure at this stage where the iconic King of Pop Michael Jackson had Aspergers Syndrome/ High Functioning Autism or not but I think the jury will probably always remain out and will be forever deliberating on this particular verdict.
Michael Jackson raising the Roof on MTV
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Link to Wikipedia Definitions
Tim Truzy from U.S.A. on May 19, 2018:
Excellent article. MJ probably did struggle with several difficulties. He and Prince - artists who inspired a generation - probably fall in the spectrum with their approaches to living.
However, some of these things are common to actors, artists, writers. Creativity can take a toll on the mind and body and constantly trying to be the best can be eventually debilitating.
Yet, your reasoning is sound. Having a close friend with autism, I've seen some of the things you have pointed out.
MJ was great. thank you.
Mary Kelly Godley (author) from Ireland on April 15, 2018:
Thank you for reading and commenting. Like you I have an AS Diagnosis and understand completely what you are saying.
Amanda Bowles from Arizona on April 10, 2018:
I never thought about the possibility of a celebrity like Michael Jackson struggling with this kind of condition. Sometimes people get into this mindset where they see celebs as more like God's or people without problems. Of course, this isn't true at all, as every individual born into this life has their own set of difficulties. As for myself, being an individual more recently diagnosed with this same condition, it is easier now for me to see this. People with Asbergers don't usually only struggle socially, but can also academically. Usually, people with this condition (myself included) are really gifted in one particular thing and because of that everything else falls below the normal threshold. You can see this with Michael Jackson in his musical abilities. That is where he was beyond average, but because of that, other aspects of his life fell below the average person. I'm the same way, I exceed average with technological and videography, but as a result, my academics fell short. This was a very interesting article to read, especially for myself, thank you for your time in putting it together!
Mary Kelly Godley (author) from Ireland on November 30, 2016:
That's interesting, Lifestylenh, Prince was a very interesting character too, must look at doing an article on him when I get a chance. Thanks for reading and commenting.
Mary Kelly Godley (author) from Ireland on September 29, 2015:
Thanks for commenting Missy'am84. He certainly was unique and had a brilliant talent. The rest will always be speculated about now I suppose.
Missy'am84 on September 28, 2015:
As a fan I never thought of that but still the man had a TRAGIC life, more tragic than Elvis Presley's (Michael's deceased ex-father-in-law) all I know is that the trial 10 years ago took a toll on him mentally but anyway may rest in peace!
McKenna Meyers on July 21, 2015:
Thanks for giving us a look at Michael Jackson from your vantage point. He really was a tortured soul in so many ways. If he had Asperger's, it must have been hard for him to understand the different motives of all those who surrounded him -- greed, fame, control. Perhaps that's why he enjoyed the innocent simplicity of children.
Mary Kelly Godley (author) from Ireland on February 28, 2014:
Thanks for your comment Now I Know Why. I certainly think Michael Jackson could have had Aspergers. Its just a pity that he never sought a diagnosis or really understood his issues, it could have helped him overcome a lot of his difficulties I think.
Now I know Why on February 28, 2014:
I absolutely agree with you, I think he had Aspergers, he had practicaly all of the main traits!
Ajit on June 07, 2013:
What ever was the reason, MJ is the best.
Mary Kelly Godley (author) from Ireland on July 08, 2012:
Yeah I agree if he did have Aspergers that was not the only psychological issue he had. Such a shame, he had such great talent but like so many people he didn't get the help he needed when it would have made all the difference for him.
Deborah from Las Vegas on July 07, 2012:
Certainly a controversial figure, undoubtedly the best entertainer that ever lived. It's quit possible he had Aspergers, but he had so many emotional problems it's difficult to tell. This is a beautiful hub, and very interesting. I love watching him perform, the king of pop. Thanks for the memories.