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J Med Biogr. 2014 May;22(2):107-15. doi: 10.1177/0967772013479283. Epub 2013 Jul 29.

Ruminations on Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) and autism.

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133 Hampton Roads Avenue, Hampton, VA, USA


The article brings together contemporary research on autism spectrum disorder and historical sources concerning the medical condition of a 12th century nun, Hildegard of Bingen, to test two hypotheses: first, that Hildegard manifested disabilities that meet the criteria for autism spectrum disorder and, second, that medieval monasticism was unwittingly well-suited to treat Hildegard's condition. Abundant Hildegardian sources document traces of autism spectrum disorder behaviour in Hildegard's unusual childhood and the composite picture that emerges, when these individual traits are gathered together, is consistent with an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis. The role monasticism played in helping Hildegard overcome these behaviours is documented and aspects that monasticism shares with modern autism spectrum disorder treatment programs are identified. By recognizing the presence of autism spectrum disorder traits in a major cultural leader of another era and by identifying the type of life she lived while those traits were minimized, we gain insight into the history of autism, medieval monastic life and effective elements of autism spectrum disorder treatment.


Asperger; Hildegard of Bingen; autism; monasticism

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