Autistic Individuals in the Arts: Susan Boyle

The whole world stopped for a day in April 2009 when they heard this.  

In a manner similar to the way that stars including Kelly Clarkson, Chris Daughtry, and Carrie Underwood were propelled into the spotlight from American Idol, Susan Boyle received her start on the third season of Britain’s Got Talent.  There’s just one thing different about her.  She has Asperger’s Syndrome.

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND – DECEMBER 14: Susan Boyle attends the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards at The Hydro on December 14, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Karwai Tang/WireImage)

Before her audition, things didn’t come easy to her.  Growing up in Scotland, Boyle faced learning difficulties that doctors attributed to oxygen deprivation at birth.  She later attended Edinburgh Acting School, where her true passion was singing.  With her earnings as a charity worker, she paid for a vocal coach, yet still struggled to break into the music industry.  She published some of her early tracks in the mid-to late 1990’s, but faced little success.  She covered “Cry Me a River” for a fundraiser CD for Whitburn Academy in England, which was recovered and posted online shortly after her audition for Britain’s Got Talent.  Other covers included “Killing Me Softly” and “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”.  When she went to audition for the X Factor, she actually backed out “for fear contestants were only selected based on their looks” (Mirror).  

Finally, when she came to audition for Britain’s Got Talent in front of a live-audience, the world fell in love with her.  She advanced easily through the rounds, but fell short in second place to the dance group, Diversity.  After the heavy press, she was admitted to a psychiatric clinic in London due to the emotional and social drain from the show.  She received plenty of negative press speculating about her instability.  Once she left the hospital, she continued on the BGT tour, and soon released her first album, “I Dreamed a Dream” in November 2009, breaking British records.  

Susan Boyle performing in front of signage for Britain’s Got Talent. She recieved an abundance of negative publicity following her breakdowns. She later traced these back to her diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome.
(Image: ITV)

Asperger’s syndrome for Boyle has mostly affected her social interactions.  Boyle has high functioning Autism which means that she has an average-or-higher IQ, but faces challenges in her interactions with others.  She has described how the condition has resulted in depression and mood swings.  Before, she was described as “eccentric or unpredictable,” but now knows what has caused this behavior (DailyMail).  Since receiving her diagnosis, Boyle says she’s “learned strategies for coping with it and the best one is always to just walk away” (DailyMail).  

Still, Boyle says being on stage, “I can become a different person. I feel safe. I don’t feel judged up there, I feel accepted.”  Despite her challenges, Boyle believes, “It’s just a condition that I have to live with and work through” (The List).  As a successful member of the music industry with ASD, Boyle has proven to herself and others that despite or even because of your diagnosis, you can still “dream your dream.”










  1. As someone who heard Susan Boyle perform back in 2009 and loved her voice, I found your blog post very interesting and surprising, as I did not know she had Asperger’s. I found it sad that people thought that she was unstable at the time because she found it difficult to handle the stress and emotional drain from the show, and that she received negative attention due to it; however, her story is certainly very inspiring because she achieved enormous success. I also thought that her experience was similar to John’s in the way that she feels accepted and fulfilled through her work in the music industry, regardless of how many people are watching her. I think her story highlights the importance of identifying autism in individuals as early as possible, because Susan stated that after she found out she has Asperger’s, she has learned strategies for her difficulties, and that she can still work through her challenges.

  2. mrwright says:

    Wow! This is an amazing story! I didn’t know when I first heard her years ago that she had Asperger’s. I also wasn’t aware of all the backlash she received after the show ended – that seems terrible that people would criticize her for being drained. I think it would be a pretty exhausting experience for anyone! I think it’s so interesting how she feels when she’s on stage, that she feels accepted. I think that must come from that people are seeing her for the beautiful singer she is – not for any of her insecurities, which makes me really happy. Everyone feels good when people see them at their best, so we should definitely encourage other people on the spectrum to pursue what they love. The world would discover a ton of untapped talent!

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