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Actress Opens Up About Autism Diagnosis

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She starred beside Tom Hanks and dated John F. Kennedy Jr. and now a one-time A-lister says she was diagnosed with autism as a youngster and doctors recommended she be institutionalized.

Daryl Hannah, 52, who starred in the 1980s blockbusters “Splash” and “Wall Street” tells People Magazine that she suffered from “debilitating shyness” as a result of her autism diagnosis.

Hannah says she “checked out” at school and rocked incessantly — something she still does today — and doctors recommended that she be medicated and institutionalized, ideas that her mother rejected.

Movies became a way to cope and at age 17, Hannah moved from her home in Chicago to Los Angeles with her eye on the silver screen.

Hiding her diagnosis from movie executives, Hannah found success in Hollywood, but never felt comfortable with fame. She refused to appear on talk shows or attend premieres “not because I was above it,” she says, “but because I was terrified.”

“I’ve never been comfortable being the center of attention,” Hannah said. “It’s always freaked me out.”

Today, Hannah leads a quieter life primarily focusing on environmental activism.

“Life is too short to stress the small things anymore,” she says.

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Comments (17 Responses)

  1. Marl says:

    This is interesting because when she was young Autism was not even characterized as a neurologic disorder as it is today. It was thought to be a phychological issue, so it’s curious that she would have been diagnosed when she was school age, even with Asperger’s, which was considered an emotional disorder and not even recognized in the DSM at the time. Most people I know who have Autism would have a hard time putting themselves into the mental role of another person to do the acting that she does.

  2. Dian B says:

    I fear our schools r doing this to thousands of school kids today !!! Thank you D. Hanna for sharing this today !!! Parents take heed & protect your child from the schools today, if necessary !!

  3. soricobob says:

    Did you ever wonder why JFK,Jr dumped her? Now you know the rest of the story!

  4. fairlady68 says:

    Temple Grandin was also diagnosed very young and she is much older than this actress. Good on you Ms. Hannah!

  5. sMurr says:

    Dian B.- Please move your child to a different school district if you are not getting what you need for your child. There is Federal Law that protects your child. Search out the best…do not just criticize the school…do something! Some school districts bend over backwards to help these children.

  6. Cindy says:

    The psych who diagnosed me said that autistics tend to have a special affinity for the theater. Personally I can put myself into another person’s mind with ease if I have had anything resembling a similar experience to what the person is experiencing. BTW, I find that non-autistics find it very difficult to put themselves into the place of autistics without extensive support from autistics vis a vis explanations, examples, analogies, stories, etc.

  7. Mari says:

    I find this difficult to believe and sad to have been reported. The statistics of individuals have such a diagnosis do not exist during the time this article suggests Ms. Hannah reported them.

  8. Darci says:

    I work with students on the spectrum and I have had a few who are very dramatic, good at memorizing movie lines or words on a screen. I think they would do great in drama in high school and beyond. Marl to make a blanket statement that people with autism wouldn’t know how to act is or put themselves in another role is short sighted. Every person with autism is very different and it is a “spectrum” disorder!!! Dian B. I disagree with your statement about protecting our children from schools. The majority of school districts in this country do a great job with educating students who are on the autism spectrum. There are laws that protect students with disabilities and IEP meetings are a collaborative process otherwise you can go to mediation. Sounds like some people have misconceptions about autism or are uneducated in the laws surrounding the education of children with disabilities.

  9. Erin says:

    I too, find this hard to believe, not because people with Autism, can’t be successful in theater or elsewhere, but I think there are many issues here, (some that some of the previous posters have cited )e that just don’t add up. Taking her age into consideration, only children with the very significant level of disability received an autism dx back then. I have 2 sons with ASD- one autsim and 1 asperger 19 & 17, and doctors were not quick to dx when they were young, inspite of what I know realize was very obviously autism. Aspergers syndrome was not even on the DSM until the 90’s. I am not just basing MHO becasue I am a parent of youth with ASD, but I have now worked for the past 15 years in the field of ASD and DD/ID. Clearly dx, needs to be an appropriate clinician, which I am not, however I don’t just don’t buy it with her, because in spite of the article stating she did not do interviews, evidence is to the contrary – just go online and serch and you will see many unrehearsed interveiws with no signs of any social challenges, she is socially appropriate,spontaneous and clearly has no challnges with reciprocol conversation, pragmatics, eye contact or non verbal cues or gestures. Some kids with do well in the theatre becasue it is scripted. Socials skill therapy groups utilize scripting and practicing to give youth with ASD the tools to help with tehir challnges, and many people improve their social skills as they get older, but people with ASD just do not lose the core deficiets, most struggle socially, even the highest functioning. NOT everyone who had delays or was socialy awkward has autism and when very successful adults suddenly self diagnose their mild social challenges or anxiety as autism and now self identify as such, it trivalizes the disability and real challenges people with autism and their families face. Children with ASD have the lowest employment outcomes and levels of independant living than all other disabilities when tehy transition to adult life. So now Ms Hannah comes out as autistic and people are supposed to be inspired? Really? If she has austim, I would hope she uses her influence not just for teh attenstions she in now getting from this statement, but to reach out to autism advocacny groups and researchers to share what interventions and therapies her mother used to assist her in this remarkable recovery.

  10. Erin says:

    BTW, I didn’t spell check my previous post and I am a sloppy typist, so there are tons of typos, including the word autism; does that now make me dyslexic or dysgraphic ??? My point of this is just to reiterate that everyone has some challenges, however it does not meet they meet the diagnostic critera of disability.

  11. Rhonda says:

    A poster seems to be disbelieving the validity of a dx for Ms Hanna as a child, and she doesn’t seem to think Theater is something an autistic could do well. I am a mother of a child diagnosed with Aspergers at the age of 12 1/2, he is currently 13. Theater is his LOVE, he belongs to an acting troupe in our local community and THRIVES in this environment. The other comment is that autism was not a dx when Ms. Hanna was younger. In the 40’s it became a “condition” with a diagnosis. There were a few cases since then, and Ms. Hanna and Ms. temple Grandin prove that your giftings make a place for you.

  12. Peter Attwood says:

    I’m 62 years old and was diagnosed “mildly autistic” in 1960, though certainly not by the school district. So I’m not surprised that Hannah was picked up. Of course they were idiots; sometimes it’s better to be overlooked.

  13. Rhain says:

    I applaud Daryl for coming out about her diagnosis. I find when people learn my son has autism, they really don’t understand the vast ranging spectrum has both functional and nonfunctional aspects. I’m of the belief that the public needs to be educated by this diagnosis, even doctors can learn from their limited understanding of each diagnosis. Autism is not a cookie cutter diagnosis. I’m tired of people misunderstanding exactly what it means to be autistic and applaud those with it to be their own voice.

  14. Erin says:

    Theater and ASD, etc.. In respone to Rhonda’s post suggesting I am of somehow of the opinion that people with ASD can not excel in theatre.. No where did I suggest that people/children on the spectrum could not be successful in the theater, to the contrary I believe the theater may be an excellent environment for youth on the spectrum, as there are so many opportunities to participate in so many different areas- set design, lighting acting, make up , acting etc… Acting is scripted, it does not require spontaneous social interactions and in my opinion may be an excellent tool to increase social skills, as rehearsing lines requires study and practice. As for the comparison to of Temple Grandin (whom aI have met on 2 occasion and chatted with.) Note Ms Hannah and Temple Grandin have almost a generation between them- 16 years. Ms Hannah is the same age as I am, also note she left home to go to NY at age 17 and was highly successful , Dr Grandin struggled for many, many years per her own accounts in her books, especially in high school and college. The first time I met Dr Grandin, in spite of her brilliance, her social challenges were still present in unreherased conversation, especially eye contact. I met her again 10 years later and she was much less obvious and her conversational skills far superior to our first encounter. Also in regard to social functioning, there are countless interviews and public appearances online where she displays absoultely none of the stereotypical behaviors of are part of the diagnostic criteria of ASD on the IV or v editions of DSM. Ms Hannah dated rock stars and JFK Jr, The young women I work with who have ASD should be so lucky to have suffered the social challenges she faced. Again this does not mean I am implying people with ASD can not date or even marry. My point was that for the majority of people with ASD , regardless of where their talents and gifts may lay, have life long social challenges and not everyone who has some social anxiety has autism. We now have many people who self identify/ self dx themselves as autistic and I am not saying chidlren, especially girls are under the radar and underserved when it comes to ASD dx, however when people do such and really do not meet criteria , it trivalizes the challenges people with ASD face and undermines the need most people and families dealing with austim need. That’s my beef. ASD is not jsut a little social quirck or a wee bit of anxiety. Ms. Hannah states she was so severe that her parents were told to institutionalize her, yet at by age 17 she was highly independant and successful, and went on to become a world famous actress and date the world’s most eligble men, wow that is quite a feat. Ms Hannah’s last words of her interview suggests that she just decided to not let things bother her… if only it were that easy for my sons and most of the youth I work with who have ASD.

  15. Stephanie says:

    I love how some of you are in fact placing limits on those you love and saying just what they CANT do…sure, they can’t right now, but unless they’re missing a brain entirely YOU are the ones who need to push them so they CAN. The outlook is only as grim as you say it is. Shame on your negativity and lack of faith in people with this challenge. Remember too, you meet one person with autism you’ve only met one person with autism…it is a SPECTRUM disorder. P.s. Dan Akroyd was diagnosed too.

  16. radsmom says:

    I have a 13 year old son who is on the higher end of the autism spectrum – he is creative and very, very funny – his performing arts class is his favorite and he is very good at it too.

    I think one of the biggest problems our society has with this disorder is the stereotyping and generalizations that are made. Made by doctors, teachers, and just people in general. Every single person who is on the spectrum is different. They have different brains and therefore different needs and different issues.

    Jeez 20 years ago moms were told “autism” was their fault for not giving a child enough love. Look at the progress that has been made there. I think in another 20 years the whole thing will be diagnosed and recognized in a completely different way still.

  17. beveanne harrold says:

    so proud of you for stepping forward.

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