Actor Wentworth Miller's Autism Diagnosis Explained

"Prison Break" leading man Wentworth Miller announced in an Instagram post this week that it had been a year since he was first diagnosed with autism. Accompanying a photo of a blank white square, the actor wrote, "This fall marks 1 year since I received my informal autism diagnosis. Preceded by a self-diagnosis. Followed by a formal diagnosis." Miller added, "It was a long, flawed process in need of updating. IMO. I'm a middle-aged man. Not a 5-year-old."

Miller wanted to make sure he got across the point that even though he has lived with the knowledge of this diagnosis for a year, he still has more to learn about the condition. "I don't know enough about autism. (There's a lot to know.) Right now my work looks like evolving my understanding. Re-examining 5 decades of lived experience [through] a new lens. That will take time."

Miller went on to say that rather than "run the risk of suddenly being a loud, ill-informed voice in the room" he would instead point his followers to other people who are knowledgeably adding to the conversation and "fighting stigma."

What is autism?

Autism Speaks defines autism, also known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), as "a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication." According to data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, autism affects approximately one in every 54 children in the United States (via National Institute of Mental Health). However, not all people affected by autism will exhibit the same symptoms or behaviors.

Since autism is a disorder that occupies a wide spectrum, each person diagnosed with autism will possess "a distinct set of strengths and challenges," Autism Speaks explained. "The ways in which people with autism learn, think and problem-solve can range from highly skilled to severely challenged," the organization continued. "Some people with ASD may require significant support in their daily lives, while others may need less support and, in some cases, live entirely independently."

Though Wentworth Miller acknowledged in an Instagram post that he was diagnosed with autism in his late 40s, signs of autism typically begin manifesting in early childhood, around the age of two or three.

Signs and symptoms of autism

According to the CDC, people who are on the autism spectrum will typically have "significant social, communication and behavioral challenges." In some cases, those with autism may repeat certain behaviors or habits and resist change associated with their daily activities. Many on the spectrum will also have a different way of learning, engaging with people, and reacting to stimuli.

A child or adult with autism may behave differently in everyday situations compared to people who are neurotypical. For example, they may not react when someone they are with points at an object for them to look at or have difficulty understanding both their own feelings and the feelings of others. Some people with autism may be resistant to being held or touched, have problems adapting to a new routine, have trouble expressing their needs, or they may seem to have unconventional reactions to the world around them. Whether diagnosed in childhood or adulthood, autism "typically last throughout a person's life," the CDC confirmed.

How is autism diagnosed in children?

When a child goes to the doctor for regular checkups, they will be observed for signs of any developmental delays, according to Mayo Clinic. If the doctor suspects that a child may be on the autism spectrum, the doctor will likely refer the child to a specialist, such as a child psychologist, developmental pediatrician, or another medical professional who has expertise in this area.

Diagnosing a child has autism can be difficult because the symptoms and severity can vary widely across the spectrum. As there is no official test or screening that is used to diagnose the condition, medical professionals use a variety of methods in order to make an assessment. To determine if a child has the disorder, the specialist might ask the parent or caregiver how the child's social and communication skills and other behaviors have developed, as well as give the child tests related to speech, learning, developmental level, and behavioral areas.

A specialist may also score the child on communication interactions, recommend genetic testing, or refer to criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association (per Mayo Clinic).

How is autism diagnosed in adults?

While autism is commonly diagnosed during childhood, Autism Awareness states that it is not unusual for an adult to receive an autism diagnosis. For people who have always felt like they have had trouble fitting in, have had difficulty maintaining relationships, or feel uncomfortable in social settings and are looking for a conclusive answer, choosing to get tested for autism could be a powerful and liberating experience. It can also open up opportunities to connect with other adults going through the same thing. 

Wentworth Miller, who was diagnosed as an adult, noted in an Instagram post that having autism is not something he'd change. Instead, he said that "being autistic is central to who I am. To everything I've achieved/articulated."

For adults seeking to determine if they have autism, Healthline recommends you first consult with your general practitioner to rule on underlying physical conditions that could be causing your concerns. Your doctor may then refer you to a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist.

Wentworth Miller isn't the only adult celebrity speaking out about their autism diagnosis

Wentworth Miller is not the only well-known figure to receive an autism diagnosis. There are a number of notable figures across a variety of fields who've spoken out about their own experiences with autism spectrum disorder.

Elon Musk, the world-renowned entrepreneur and business magnate, announced during his opening monologue on "Saturday Night Live" that he was "the first person with Asperger's" who ever hosted the show (via Health Grades). However, that turned out not to be entirely true; another well-known celebrity with Asperger's syndrome, Dan Aykroyd, was an original cast member on "SNL" from 1975 to 1979.

Like Miller, Aykroyd was also an adult when his condition was officially diagnosed in the early 1980s (via Daily Mail). Asperger's syndrome is a diagnosis that was once used as part of the autism spectrum, but which eventually was folded into the autism diagnostic criteria in 2013 (via Autism Speaks). Other famous names associated with autism or Asperger's include "Britain's Got Talent" breakout star Susan Boyle, American film actress Darryl Hannah and Academy Award-winner Anthony Hopkins (via Everyday Health).