When a decidedly unglamorous Susan Boyle stood before a skeptical Simon Cowell and a visibly twittering audience at 2009’s Britain’s Got Talent and sang a soaring rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables, it was a revelation that drew a wild standing ovation and kudos from all three judges. Now comes another revelation: In an exclusive interview with England’s The Observer over the weekend, the Scottish singer announced that she was diagnosed last year with Asperger’s syndrome. Once again, she drew accolades, this time from an autism community ready to embrace her.
Boyle’s news comes on the heels of Daryl Hannah’s (Splash) reveal to People magazine that she was diagnosed with autism as a child but had hidden it from movie executives.
Fox Searchlight has announced plans to make a film about Boyle’s life story with Meryl Streep possibly cast in the lead. But the 52-year-old singer’s achievements have sometimes been marred by reports of public outbursts and moments of volatile behavior. She hopes the new diagnosis, which she kept secret for a year, will lead people to show greater empathy and understanding.
Asperger’s is no longer a formal diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the psychiatric bible in the United States, but the term is still used widely globally and in the autism community. It’s considered a less severe form of autism that compromises social interactions and would have made Boyle’s sudden fame that much more difficult.
Boyle, who received the wrong diagnosis of brain damage at birth had carried the stigma throughout her life. Bullied and called “Susie Simple” as a child growing up in a small Scottish town, Boyle found out her problem was not her IQ. She always knew it was an unfair label, she says. “Now I have a clearer understanding of what’s wrong and I feel relieved and a bit more relaxed about myself.”
Now she understands better why she needs support, even though her IQ is above average. “I am not strong on my own,” she says. “When I have the support of people around me I am fine. I have a great team.”
Like Hannah, Boyle has retreated to a quieter life. She moved back from a mansion she built into the small terraced house she once shared with her mother, Bridget. She says she finds comfort there.
Boyle hopes the new diagnosis will lead to tolerance of her sometimes difficult behavior. “I think people will treat me better because they will have a much greater understanding of who I am and why I do the things I do.”
Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s at 50 and blogs at Disability and Representation, agrees. “I love this woman,” she posted on Facebook. “I’m not surprised to hear that she has Asperger’s, and I’m glad she has a proper label for her neurology. I know so well the feelings of relief she expresses.”