Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743 - July 4, 1826) was an American Founding Father and the third President of the United States. Some of his major accomplishments include being the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, writing the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, and founding the University of Virginia. He organized the now-defunct Democratic-Republican party along with James Madison.
He was the first Secretary of the State, the second Vice President, and the third President. His accomplishments as President include the Louisiana Purchase, the Lewis and Clark expeditions, defeating the Barbary pirates, and outlawing the international slave trade. Jefferson was a polymath and also worked in other areas such as science, invention, philosophy, architecture, and music. He continues to be one of the most popular and well-known American Presidents, and is featured on the nickel and American 2 dollar bill.
After reading biographies on Thomas Jefferson, Norm Ledgin noticed similarities to his adult son who was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. After noticing similarities between the two, Ledgin eventually decided to write a book about it. In the book, Ledgin argued that he met five of the thirteen criteria (the minimum for a diagnosis is four) required for an Asperger's diagnosis listed in the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria. Temple Grandin, Tony Attwood, and various historians have agreed with Ledgin's claim, saying that it has validity.
Jefferson was often considered shy and socially awkward by his contemporaries, and was regarded as an eccentric. His mannerisms were said to be very awkward and odd, and he was even described as having an unusual sitting position. He also struggled with eye contact, which Alexander Hamilton, his rival, once attacked him for and believed it to be proof that he was a dishonest man. Jefferson was also attacked by his political rivals for apparently being expressionless.
Jefferson had a very unusual choice of clothes and his hair was often disheveled. He was also particularly fond of mockingbirds and owned them as pets. He would even take them to meetings, and Ledgin suggested that he did this in order to calm himself when making social interactions. Jefferson himself once said that he didn't care much about his clothing, and would prefer to dress for comfort rather than for appearance. He was often also described singing or humming to himself.
He was known to have speech disabilities and he stuttered. His voice was described as being weak and high-pitched, and he was unable to talk louder than normal speaking voice. If he tried to yell, his voice would become inarticulate. As President, he only gave two speeches (both at his two inaugurations). It was said that he was inaudible except in the first three rows. This is why he strongly preferred writing over speaking, as he was somewhat self-conscious of his voice. It has also been suggested that he was dyslexic and had OCD; both of these conditions are commonly comorbid with Autism. He also suffered from frequent headaches, which Ledgin speculated were migraines (which have a positive correlation with autism). Because his childhood house burned down in a fire, so it cannot be known if he exhibited any of the early symptoms. But according to family tradition, by the time he was five he read all of the books in his father's library.
Jefferson had very specific routines. He would take notes of everything, and eventually left over 40,000 of them by the time of his death. One of the most notable examples of this was his personal library, where he had about 6,500 volumes of books. He was also terrible with money, and Ledgin suggested that his note-taking habits were why he died in debt. Autistic teenagers and adults tend to have very poor money management skills. He also had the need to measure the distance he traveled. Jefferson would use a odometer to count his steps when he walked, and he figured out how to calculate how many times a carriage wheel rotated each mile. Another example of his routines was his habit of soaking his feet in icy water every morning. Jefferson believed this prevented him from getting sick, but there was no actual evidence that it actually prevented sickness.
Studies suggest that Autism is family-related. According to Ledgin, Jefferson likely got Autism from his mother's side of the family, the Randolphs. Ledgin also described other Randolph family members with potentially autistic traits. Jefferson also had a sister named Elizabeth who was said to have intellectual disabilities. Ledgin suggests it is possible that she was also Autistic (albeit more lower-functioning). His younger brother, Randolph, was also said to have been somewhat mentally deficient and persistently childlike.