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Singer Susan Boyle Reveals Asperger's Diagnosis

By Peter Russell
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Sheena Meredith, MD

Dec. 9, 2013 -- The singer Susan Boyle says she has Asperger's syndrome, and the diagnosis has given her a sense of relief.

Asperger's syndrome is a form of autism, which is a lifelong disability that affects how a person makes sense of the world, processes information, and relates to other people.

Misdiagnosis at Birth

Boyle shot to fame on Britain's Got Talent in 2009 to become one of the country's top-selling female artists. She received the diagnosis a year ago but kept it secret until now.

The 52-year-old tells the U.K.'s Observer that a misdiagnosis at birth left her carrying the label "brain damaged."

"It was the wrong diagnosis when I was a kid," she tells the paper. "I was told I had brain damage. I always knew it was an unfair label. Now I have a clearer understanding of what's wrong and I feel relieved and a bit more relaxed about myself."

Boyle says she was called "Susie Simple" when she was growing up.

Intelligence

"I thought I had a more serious illness and couldn't function properly," Boyle says. She reveals in her interview, though, that a series of tests showed her intelligence levels were not connected with her condition: "I was told my IQ was above average."

Asperger's syndrome is sometimes referred to as a "high functioning" form of autism, because those with the condition often have average or above-average intelligence. People with Asperger's don't usually have the learning problems linked with autism. But people with Asperger's often have trouble with:

  • Communication: It can be a challenge for them to understand and interpret gestures, facial expressions, or tone of voice.
  • Social interaction: They might struggle to maintain friendships and may also behave in what might seem to be an inappropriate manner.
  • Social imagination: They may find it hard to understand what other people are thinking or predict the outcome of situations.

People with Asperger's may also rely on routines, have sensory troubles, and enjoy special interests that are pursued rigidly and repetitively.

Boyle has had depression, anxiety, and mood swings throughout her life. Until earlier this year, she'd never been able to perform a live solo tour. Her preparations for a series of U.K.-wide concerts in 2014 are the subject of an ITV documentary, There's Something About Susan.

Asperger's Diagnosis: 'Crucial Milestone'

Mark Lever, chief executive of the U.K.'s National Autistic Society, says in a statement: "Diagnosis can be a critical milestone for people with the condition, which, as Susan said, can be a relief, providing an explanation for years of feeling 'different.' It can also offer a gateway to identifying appropriate support, and without it many people may find it difficult to access the help they need.

"By revealing her diagnosis Susan has played an important role in bringing the issue of autism to the nation's attention. Autism can have a profound and sometimes devastating effect on individuals and families, but public understanding and support can make a huge difference."

SOURCES: The National Autistic Society.The Observer. Susanboylemusic.com. ITV.

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