Fact or Fiction: James Durbin and Asperger’s?

11 Feb

Tonight, Jesse, a nineteen-year-old client with AS, asked me to watch James Durbin. By now, I’m sure you have heard of him. The twenty-one-year-old unemployed singer on American Idol who has a small child and a supportive girlfriend. I hadn’t heard of James Durbin, nor had the four other guys in the group, all with AS. So, we viewed this clip:

Watching the clip was easy. James Durbin is an excellent singer, more likable and less polarizing than Adam Lambert. He has a story that AI loves — no job, big dreams, complications. For James, these complications are even diagnostic: Tourette’s and Asperger’s. But, watching was only the first part of what Jesse wanted.

“I don’t think he has AS, Jeanne. I think he is working that situation for the show. What do you think?” That’s where the hard part came in. So, I asked the guys to make a case for why he might not have AS; here were their arguments:

“Um, I don’t know many Aspies who frequent bars. Especially at that age. I mean, he’s barely legal.” (James might be breaking a rule, an Aspie no-no.)

“I have Tourette’s. The stress of singing would make me start ticking.”

“Yeah, well, I have Asperger’s. The thought of being around that many people would make me more than nervous.”

“I thought Aspie’s don’t make good eye contact. He just looked his son in the face.”

“That much crap in my hair would make me freak out.”

“His clothes look itchy.”

“I didn’t look at the camera when I was in pictures.”

“I don’t call it AUS-pergers.”

Then, I asked the guys why he would “lie”?

“I don’t lie.”

“I don’t know.”

“To get on tv.”

“To get on tv.”

“To take advantage of the situation.”

I ask you, my reader: What do you think?


Posted by on February 11, 2011 in ASD in the Grand Scheme


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36 responses to “Fact or Fiction: James Durbin and Asperger’s?

  1. Tam

    February 11, 2011 at 2:19 AM

    It’s not a good idea to try to diagnose someone based on less than 5 minutes of film. Many misunderstandings come out of that kind of spot-judgment, and it generally causes Aspies a lot of trouble, so doing it to someone else is doubly bad.

    As to the singing thing, I sing in public myself, and *while* I’m singing the world around me becomes completely insignificant, so the nervousness usually disappears for me. As soon as the song’s over, though, it all hits me pretty hard.

    He does seem pretty together socially, though, and high stress is known to increase both AS and Tourette’s symptoms… so there’s cause to be skeptical, but not enough to make any actual calls.

    • karen

      April 3, 2011 at 5:54 PM

      my son is 19 & hign-functioning autistic & he loves to act. He is not an extroverted person & is ackward in conversation, but when you put him on a stage or in a crowd & he is doing a Jim Carey act he lights up the room & you wouldn’t suspect that he is autistic – he doesn’t have a shy bone in his body when he is being someone else and he is hillarious – the attention is like a drug & he sucks it up. James Durbin is the same way & if you are talking about something he is passionate about (most autistic’s have limited interests) he can contribute a lot. Also, my son has a VERY hard time telling even a slight white lie – most spectrum people are blatantly honest & find it very difficult to lie . they often do not understand the concept of lying. So, NO I do not think James Durbin would make it up.

      • Tam

        May 1, 2011 at 3:15 PM

        The whole point is that if he’s not on the spectrum then he could very well be lying 😛 Or mistaken. Or misdiagnosed. Or any number of things. But as I was saying we can’t diagnose from our living rooms based on the little bit of footage that makes it past the cutting room floor.

  2. jholverstott

    February 11, 2011 at 2:25 AM

    I agree, Tam, with your opinion. I found it interesting that my client even questioned James’ diagnosis, as it showed some interesting insights and perspective-taking.

  3. C. S. Wyatt

    February 11, 2011 at 2:31 AM

    Part of the problem with situations like this being “the story” is that people start to question autism, Asperger’s, and other serious conditions. I’m not sure how I feel about this guessing game, but is definitely being played on several autism forums. That so many on the forums have doubts is somewhat troubling mainly because so many students I meet with PDD-NOS and AS diagnoses are doubted by teachers, employers, and even extended family.

    I generally object to diagnosing fictional characters, famous people, et cetera, as doing so doesn’t seem productive. I think it is “impolite” to diagnose someone without his or her wanting a diagnosis form a qualified provider.

    However, in this case the artist has made the AS part of his story. That opens him up to questions and media coverage. It is American Idol, with millions of viewers and lots of media scrutiny.

    Let’s hope this ends well. If it turns out to be a false claim… what a mess. Please let this be people not understanding the nature of AS. Many of the students I meet can and do “pass” for normal for hours at a time.

    • jholverstott

      February 11, 2011 at 10:10 AM

      I, too, am worried about how this ends. I agree that the troubling nature of this is the common, sad, and frustrating fact that people doubt AS, among other conditions, FREQUENTLY. At the same time, I find it interesting that so many are doubting his diagnosis.

  4. throckles

    February 11, 2011 at 10:13 AM

    I have to agree with you. It is nearly impossible to diagnosis in that short time frame. My daughter can also pass for hours at a time. She can make eye contact when she has to if she is not over-tired. She can also do so with people she is comfortable around. She can converse back and forth quite well in subjects that interest her. She has no trouble performing in front of large crowds and looks forward to the talent show at her school every Spring. However, she has real trouble with general socializing and plain chit chat even with her best friend. It’s there, it just isn’t always visible. At the end of the day, for her it is about balance. The more she manages in a day, the more down time she needs to relax and recover or she erupts.

  5. pookiepookison

    February 11, 2011 at 6:18 PM

    No, he absolutely, positively, does NOT have AS. NO! How do I know? Any Aspie that recites a song that they themselves did not write will try to make the song sound just like the origional artist.

    By the way, I thought he sounded awful…

    • A mom

      April 18, 2011 at 11:54 PM

      You’re wrong and you sound uneducated and naive. My son has Aspergers and when he’s being creative he actually tries to make it his own. He goes out of his way to think differently and make it his way or sometimes even the ‘right way’. Playing guitar hero he prefers to sing vs. the guitar. Actually the guitar really frustrates him so he sings and he enjoys making up new lyrics and making it ‘better’ or more the way he feels it would sound better. Aspies are horribly misunderstood and anyone that will try to judge or diagnose any person after only seeing a few minutes at a time (whether on tv or in person) is wrong and obviously has no clue. So quit judging others and enjoy the show and good music…be happy for all of the contestants. If you don’t like his singing, turn it off. But to judge him or any of them?? Makes you sound sad.

  6. Katzedecimal

    February 11, 2011 at 11:46 PM

    I have AS. I’m a professional dancer and have performed on stage in front of 500 people, and in restaurants in front of an audience of 70 (two very different kinds of performance experience) I was just at an AS meet last night, where 13 adults (including myself) made regular eye-contact. I have no problems with cameras (the flashes, OTOH…) Performance is something you psych yourself up for, you rehearse your responses as well as your routine. Performing is just another role that we play, just another strategy that we learn, like eye-contact and making a conversation. Those fellas are forgetting that we can learn to work around our AS traits.

    • jholverstott

      February 12, 2011 at 12:52 AM

      I appreciate that you shared your perspective. It is so true and bears repeating: “work[ing] around …. AS traits.” So true.

  7. eaucoin

    February 12, 2011 at 12:01 AM

    This is a sad situation, isn’t it? The prevailing wisdom is “…if you’ve met one Aspie, you’ve met one Aspie…” because of the possible permutation of strengths and weaknesses. Here’s a sobering thought; among the many people with cognitive deficits who meet the clinical criteria for an autism spectrum disorder, there are many who will never have a diagnosis, an I.E.P. or any real understanding of their differences throughout their whole lives. Many will not find employment, or have the resources to pursue special interests, and many will be treated with contempt by their own families. For those who see themselves in the online spectrum community, many will still never be able to confirm that they really belong anywhere. The whole disability/difference issue seems to want to make having ASDs cool, but the cost of this argument is that people who need help don’t always get it. To those who have gotten a diagnosis and help, that’s wonderful. For those of us who probably never will, we don’t describe ourselves as Aspies because we want a stupid membership in a club that doesn’t welcome us. We do it because we live it everyday and we are 1 in every 100. I might look forward to the day when there is a definitive gene test for us, but that’s the day the public health bodies will start working to make sure that our genes aren’t replicated (and make short work of the disability/difference question).

  8. Karen

    February 12, 2011 at 11:14 PM

    I think the fact that people are even questioning it, assuming that all people with AS act the same/have the same characteristics/ARE the same is an extremely insensitive/ablist thing to do.

  9. pookiepookison

    February 19, 2011 at 12:34 PM

    It is copletely impossible to tell is if someone has AS from a four-minute video. We can only judge from what we saw in the video. I didn’t see any Aspie traits therefore I can make an inference thathe does not have Asperger’s. Maybe he does, but we just can’t tell from a short video.

  10. George

    March 5, 2011 at 9:06 PM

    I like James and I’m sure he’s a perfectly nice guy, but I don’t think he has Aspergers. I have a friend with AS and he behaves NOTHING like James. Is he a good singer? Yes. Will he make it in the competition? Yes. But does he have AS? Doubtful.

  11. Roxfig

    March 15, 2011 at 9:11 AM

    My son has AS, he is 15. If James Durbin has AS…I sure wish that my son had His AS….because he is SOOOOOO functioning. My son has so many struggles, your typical AS struggles….fitting in, making friends, understanding the world he lives in, obsessing with one particular subject, driving us all crazy with that one particular subject. James Durbin doesnt seem to have any of that. My son also has Tourette’s…James obviously has that….but Asperger’s (AUS perger’s) 🙂 I vote NO

  12. leigh israel

    March 23, 2011 at 10:34 PM

    I have been following American Idol this season and wondered if the Asperger dx was correct for James…don’t doubt the Tourettes but having a son who is almost 18 and originally dx with PDD/NOS atypical autism and later looked like Aspergers with Tourette like symptoms, I can’t see the Asperger’s traits either….doesn’t mean I’m wrong but he was dxd with that a little on the late side. If we saw video of him as a child maybe we could tell if someone was overzealous on the dx then or not. Maybe he just had some of the Asperger traits that have since faded? ~~~~~Ashley

  13. Cynthia

    April 1, 2011 at 7:00 PM

    I def think James has tics as seen on tv when he gets nervous, but the aspergers, I question, just because of the fluidityof his movements on stage, his good eye contact and is ability to socialize with the others. I have a teen that is high-functioning, but she knows also how to pronounce what she has, and he pronounced it totally wrong like the girl did on Top Model, it’s not called AUS pergers, it’s aspergers. That alone makes me think he doesn’t have it, or doesn’t want to say ASS pergers

  14. Mb

    April 6, 2011 at 11:55 PM

    Ok, I think no one should diagnose James, but his own doctors! I think every disease has different effects on each person with that disease! Maybe his huge support system is a big help! But please stop talking about his medical condition. People tell others about what is wrong with them, but they have their item personal physicians for the actual medical side. So I don’t even think it is ethical to diagnose, discuss him & it seems very hurtful to say some of the mean things I have read. So if you are in the spotlight & have a disease people will attack. I pray for better ways!

    • lavagirl

      May 21, 2011 at 9:59 AM

      Hi everyone, every single person is different and will deal with their problems and situations differently, you can’t judge one person with AS and another persons the same, as their whole life experience will be different, I think that James definitely has As as there would be nothing for him to lie about, its so obvious he has tourretes so he could of used that in itself if he wanted to get the sympathy vote.

  15. misty

    April 9, 2011 at 6:09 PM

    I agree with Mb.Doctors are the only people that should diagnose him or anyone for that matter.I have a 32 month old son that got diagnose with pdd may change to high functioning aspergers when he get’s older.Our family thinks nothing is wrong with him,but our family is hardly ever around either.They sure like to give input on it.We hear he is spoiled or we don’t spank him enuff.Well they do not see his sensory overloads he has,how we can not even go out to eat b/c he is sooooo hyper he want sit still he is very hyper,how he finger flicks when he has anxiety,limited play when he does play it is with the same toy the same way over and over ex.What I am trying to say is I hate it when people talk and say things and they have no idea what he has or is going through or what his family has went through.Aspergers or not he rocks.I vote for him every week.Love and prayers to everyone that knows someone with autism.

  16. mary-anne durkee

    April 14, 2011 at 7:39 PM

    Take a look at once autistic, now a high performing AS Temple Grandin, PhD-amazing yes, but I know of numerous others who have achieved so much. Often their parents diligent work proved docs and teachers wrong.

  17. James Durbin Fan

    April 19, 2011 at 3:49 PM

    James Durbin does have Aspergers and Tourettes. I am very close to someone who has Aspergers. He loves to act. He is great on stage when he is acting. Also, you can see his tics. He constantly scrunches his eyebrows. Lastly, why would a guy like James fake something as big as that?

  18. Dan

    April 22, 2011 at 1:08 PM

    Absolutely no doubt James has Aspergers, Tourettes, and probably OCD too. Why? My son is diagnosed with the same conditions and acts exactly the same, they could be twins, they even look alike. The Tourettes is obvious, but the Aspergers comes through in the interviews, there is a degree of self-absorption and unfiltered verbal response, but more overlooked is that aspies can be incredibly sensitive and empathetic, which James has also shown. Like Katzedecimal said above, because aspies tend to be highly intelligent, it gives some of them the ability to partially or wholly reason through the social handicaps of the disorder, my son really blossomed in that respect around the age of 21, James is 22, so he’s probably progessed through some of the same phase, making him more functional socially. Aspies can also be incredibly creative, my son has written dozens of songs, but if they have an OCD element it’s actually a plus for memory and focus. James has not missed a single verse this season and seems to have great recall for the phrasing of songs. I’m convinced he’s an aspie, but really like everyone else, just speculating, his doctor knows best.

  19. kitty

    April 28, 2011 at 12:47 AM

    Autism Spectrum Disorder is a spectrum for a reason. It is an umbrella term that encompasses many traits. An individual with Autism is as unique as anyone. James should be praised for overcoming his challenges and finding something that helps him. Each individual has their strengths and thats what we need to focus on and foster. You cannot say “well he makes eye contact so he must not has ASD” because even though that action may be difficult for someone who has ASD it is not for all. As well as what some of the parents commenting have said… their children have times when they are really successful socially and exhibit those traits (eye contact) where other times their children go through challenges. Everyone regardless of disability has good times and challening ones. James happens to be on the higher functioning end of the spectrum so now people are questioning it. I guess anything can be possible but we need to not judge especially so quickly. What is normal anyways???

  20. Susie Todd

    April 30, 2011 at 9:05 PM

    I have questioned whether James Durbin does in fact have AS. Two things prompted me to believe he does.
    1) When Stepefano was voted off, James could not control his emotions, crying and burying his head in his hands, basically tackled Stefano when he finished singing and then left the stage in an emotional state before the show concluded. His ability to be socially appropriate in that situation (stay on stage until the end of the show and ‘pull it together’) seemed limited. My AS son is similar in his inability to moderate his emotions and ‘switch gears’ in a situation which required it.
    2) When Hulk Hogan surprised the contestants on stage, James freaked out…in a good way, but not in a ‘normal’ self-composed way.

    What do you all think?

  21. Mary

    May 3, 2011 at 2:01 AM

    I have a neice that has as. She’s only 9 now, but I dont think a person would say things about themselves thats so not true. you can look at him and see the tourettes, do you all think thats a lie? either way he will be one of the GREATS WTH does it matter to you?????

  22. Alex

    May 11, 2011 at 9:31 AM

    To everyone-I am so disapointed with some posters. AS CANNOT be diagnosed on TV within five minute segments. Also-please research comments made about James when he was younger and just starting out in theater-he was AT FIRST very withdrawn. His drama teacher said it was very difficult for James to make eye contact and if upset/frustrated he would go off by himself. He has improved over the years. Others have pointed out some of his extreme behavior on Idol itself-note him going off on his own and staring at a wall when upset last week. I could bring up countless other instances-but why? I am not a doctor-However I AM a special education teacher-and I say to whoever started this blog-this is uncalled for. It is called a spectrum for a reason-and you have no idea how James is thinking or what he is feeling. But he did suffer a spectacular breakdown last week-maybe you won’t be satisfied until he completely collapses?

  23. Susan Walton

    May 11, 2011 at 10:30 PM

    I am an ASD mom from Santa Cruz. I know people who know James, who have worked with him. My son rides horses at a barn where James rode. His mom is known in our community. I understand the question based on TV appearance. But it is true.

  24. Susie

    May 12, 2011 at 12:42 AM

    Alex, I believe most posters on this thread have only the best intentions in sharing their thoughts Many have people close to them who live with AS and most believe an AS diagnosis cannot be made from watching a snippet of video or a reality TV show and understand the spectrum and how broad it is. And, I believe, most posters are sensitive to the fact that they can’t know what a person on TV is thinking or feeling or has experienced. Also, it doesn’t seem to me that anyone is looking for James to ‘prove’ he has AS by ‘collapsing’ or anything like that. Most of us, I would guess, are just concerned, curious friends and family members of kids/adults on the spectrum or on the spectrum ourselves, empathizing with the challenge that a show like American Idol must pose for him.

  25. ann heinrich

    May 13, 2011 at 8:21 AM

    My son has ASD and wasnt diagnosed till he was a teenager. All the years before I knew something was different about him. So many people say he doesnt seem like he has ASD, but they dont deal with him on a regular basis or didnt know him as a child. I believe he is getting better as an adult because he is learning how to fit in to what society deems right. We have more issues with him learning common sense. My son also from his love of music and is very gifted with the guitar. I do believe adults with ASD arent as noticable, but it is still there.

  26. lavagirl

    May 21, 2011 at 10:10 AM

    my niece has aspergers and one thing she told me is that because people with AS have the ability to see things in such detail, she has used this gift to watch how others behave in certain situations and copy their behave so she blends in better, it really has worked for her as now she is 17 most people wouldn’t even know that she hss a problem unless they spent whole days with her. well done to her she really is an inspiration x

  27. comesaway

    May 24, 2011 at 6:34 PM

    who r u to judge him, doubt him, or dare diagnose him? because he is a high functioning aspie does not mean he has not been dealing with this his entire life. do u think that every person that has a disease acts, thinks, or functions the same exact way as every other person with that disease? no they do not. i have a very rare disease that most people, including doctors have never heard of, behcets. but i asure u that i do not have the same exact symptoms or the same exact body reaction as any other behcets suferer. my brother has adhd, does he act the same way as every other person with adhd, no. he has learned threw the years how to function, he has a job, and is married. the only thing u have managed to prove with this entire page is that no matter how hard to fight, how hard u try, how hard u force ur self to be the best possible person u can be there will always be people like u that see u threw a lense for 2 minutes and deside that u r fake.

  28. Sharon

    May 28, 2011 at 1:02 AM

    My son, who has Asperger’s, watched the show in top 12 (actually top 13) week. He said something about James “having something – Asperger’s maybe?” This was based on James’ behaviour and was before our family knew about James’ dual diagnoses. I have also worked with people with Asperger’s, and it’s very dangerous to make assumptions about their diagnosis or severity based on their behaviour. As several people have pointed out, people with Asperger’s can do better in structured situations and when pursuing their passions. My son has also been considered by people to be too “high functioning” to have Asperger’s – but they are wrong, and he doesn’t have a mild form of the disorder, either.

  29. Berisha

    November 3, 2012 at 1:38 AM

    Actually yeah. His facial and body movements remind me of well me and I have Aspergers. Also some of the comments with long winded joke metaphors, it seemed a little like me/other Aspies I know. I have done public speaking in front of thousands of people, but am really shy in a party type setting with 20 or so people. Scripted social settings are much easier for us. Whats hard about social settings for me anyways is not knowing what I should be doing. Music is a pretty common Aspie interest. It tends to be overlooked though by the stereotype we are all engineering/computer nerds who would find art culture stuff boring. Maybe hes also a computer nerd. Idk but I see it. I also go to bars sometimes and I’m 22, I don’t really meet people there but I do have friends. I mean some rules are sacred to me sure but other rules I break. I have a tendency to “decide” for myself what rules are important. Gee a lot of the Aspies I know don’t fit this stereotype I am hearing that Aspie people are at all. This is part of why I am critical of special ed getting diagnosed, therapy. I fear Aspergers people who get diagnosed young are getting beaten down into being these passive afraid overly cautious sheltered beings who don’t know how to live. I don’t think that is the natural personality of the Aspie.


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