“What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.” -C.S. Lewis
I think we’d be unanimous in agreement if I said this picture was pretty cool. But what if I were to tell you that this picture of Manhattan, a bustling and hectic metropolis, was drawn completely from memory.
Enter stage right: Stephen Wiltshire.
The impressive Stephen Wiltshire is an artist born and bred in London and travels the entire world creating art from photographic memory. After a single, brief encounter with a landscape, whether it the area surrounding Westminster, the Dallas city landscape or an aerial view of Berlin, Germany,
Wiltshire can recreate a skyline with remarkable accuracy and detail. You almost have to see it to believe it. He is an artist of unimaginable and extraordinary talent, travelling the world creating a veritable feast for the eyes.
His savant-like ability with photographic recall might seem unbelievable to us, but it’s all very familiar to parents with children who have Asperger’s Syndrome. It’s this syndrome, nestled on the autistic spectrum, which has given Stephen Wilshire his astonishing abilities.
Wiltshire was born to Caribbean parents in 1974, growing up in Little Venice, Maida Vale, London. It didn’t take long for Geneva and Colvin Wiltshire to recognize there was something pretty special about their son.
Mute when he was young, Stephen was diagnosed with Autism by the age of three. He displayed a keen and obsessive interest with illustration and drawing, so by five his parents sent him to Queensmill School in London where he was able to cultivate his passion for both real and imagined landscapes.
His early work depicted cars and animals and his extreme interest in these subjects was accompanied by an almost encyclopedic knowledge of them. Through drawing and art, Wilshire was better able to express himself and eventually by age 9, Stephen was able to communicate verbally. You know you gave birth to an artist when their very first word is ‘paper’!
Wiltshire has continued to grow a successful, internationally renowned career, using the prowess of his Autistic brain to create art that demands attention on the world stage, not to mention the bevy of awards and accolades under his belt.
In 2006 he was made ‘A Member of the British Order of the British Empire’, the same year he opened his eponymous gallery in the Royal Arcade, selling paintings for upwards of 200,000 GBP. A beautiful mind creating a beautiful career. It’s not unusual for people with Asperger’s to have prodigious talents and gifts, it often comes part and parcel with the Asperger’s condition.
So much astonishing talent
Some children with Asperger’s have exhibited mind-blowing mathematical abilities, with permanent memory of every math problem or equation they’ve ever heard, others have graduate degrees in physics, math and science by the age of 13, one child even being able to recite the infinite numbers of Pi with perfect recall. Another young man with Asperger’s has a musical genius and plays the piano like Mozart! He can recall thousands of complex tunes by memory, defying even the most accomplished of professional musicians.
Asperger’s is a fascinating and complex brain condition found on the Autism spectrum, so what are some of the different traits or characteristics you might find in a person on this end of the spectrum Unlike Wiltshire, there is rarely a language developmental delay with Asperger’s. Whilst these children may seem aloof and ‘in their own world’, they typically show more of an interest interacting and communicating with others.
Despite their greater tendency toward communicating with others, children with Asperger’s often present as socially awkward and maintain the telltale difficulties with eye contact and recognizing the emotions of both themselves and others. Another indicator may be the presence of a high I.Q. (Intelligence Quotient), which you may witness as advanced vocabulary or an expert ability to remember facts and details, just like the people we’ve mentioned in this blog. Their academic performance is often formidable, though behavioural problems may persist, and due to these slight behavioural demarcations, many children with Asperger’s go a long time undiagnosed, some as late as adult years.
There are of course many therapies that can assist Asperger’s Syndrome, which you can learn more about here. What is clear about Asperger’s is that it’s a condition that creates brains that are truly, truly extraordinary. As Hans Asperger once said: “It seems that for success in science and art, a dash of autism is essential.” And the litany of people with Asperger’s Syndrome that have contributed enormously to the world of art and science might just prove Hans right – Stanley Kubrick, Michelangelo, Abraham Lincoln, Charles Richter and Andy Warhol- to name just a few.
The Asperger’s brain truly is a gift to the world.