A list of footballers with autism in the world right now

A list of footballers with autism in the world right now

Ciku Njuguna
updated at August 9, 2023 at 9:30 AM

Can you be successful with autism? Numerous exceptional individuals have succeeded in various fields despite being neurodivergent. For example, here is a list of footballers with autism playing in various leagues worldwide.

Footballers with autism
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Source: UGC

Autism is a brain development condition characterized by differences in behaviour and ability to learn, socialize and interact with others. This article will reveal details of some of the most famous football players with autism.

Lionel Messi

Fans and football enthusiasts worldwide have raised questions about whether Messi is Autistic. In addition, Messi's socially awkward mannerisms, such as extreme shyness and refusal to speak to teammates, even earning him a nickname, 'el pequeño mudito’ or little mute,' have fueled the rumours about his Asperger's diagnosis.

In a 2013 OhMyGoal YouTube video, former football player Romário de Souza Faría quoted a Brazillian journalist who had suggested that one of the footballers with Aspergers was Lionel Messi. In a tweet, the journalist suggested that this condition allowed Messi to focus and visualize things on the pitch differently.

What kind of syndrome does Messi have?
Messi warms up during the UEFA Champions League match between Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus at Parc des Princes in September 2022 in Paris, France. Photo by Antonio Borga/Eurasia Sports Images.
Source: Getty Images

In addition, the rumours suggest that, like other individuals with autism, the Guinness World Record holder exhibits mannerisms consistent with the condition. For example, the journalist revealed that during a training session, Messi came to practice with a plastic spoon in his mouth and refused to remove it throughout the training session. According to the video, this was Messi's way of expressing annoyance.

John O’Kane

John O’Kane is a former English footballer diagnosed with the condition at an early age. The former Manchester United player received the nickname 'The Spaceman' from teammates because he tended to zone out.

Ken Lawrence's report in the Sun revealed that John underwent a long period of mental turmoil because of his diagnosis. Regarded as a lazy footballer, John received harsh treatment, even getting fired by Everton's manager, Walter Smith, for his behaviour.

Who are the famous footballers with autism?
Alan Mahon jumps with John O'Kane during a match between Bolton Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers in a Division one match at the Reebok Stadium, Bolton. Photo by Michael Steele/ALLSPORT.
Source: Getty Images

Although O'Kane knew his diagnosis throughout his life, he only came out recently to tell the world about his journey playing football with autism. Speaking on his experience as an autistic football player, O'Kane said,

“I knew I was more gifted than most but I was never as committed because I was constantly battling things in my head. All my managers and teammates knew there was something ‘different’ about me. I always knew I was autistic and I just tried to get on with it. But it was always such a mental drain. Nobody knew what I was really going through."

However, he also spoke of the kindness of former Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson. He recounted his experience with the legendary manager saying,

"Sir Alex — in a good way — would whack me to get me going. There was a battle with Brian Clough at Nottingham Forest to sign me when I was 15. I came from Nottingham but Sir Alex got me after he invited me to his home. There was this surreal experience of us having a game of snooker together before we went to a game against Arsenal."

Desmond Pulliam

Pulliam began playing in high school, defying all odds as a young autistic footballer. The senior defensive lineman recently scored his first career touchdown during a game between the Lockhart Highschool football team and Bastrop High School.

Justin Hansen

Justin is an NFL player with Aspergers, excelling on the field despite setbacks. Formerly nonverbal and unable to make eye contact, the Defensive linesman for the Colorado State University Rams has also significantly benefited from the sport by overcoming some of the condition's symptoms. Speaking to Matt Stephens for the CSU College of Liberal Arts Magazine, he said,

“From the initial parts, my dad believed in me a lot more than I did. There have been a lot of people who didn’t believe in me. There are a lot of people with my condition who are told they can’t do something. But with the help of my supporting family, I’ve been able to reach great heights, almost the highest a football player can go. I’m still surprised to this day how far I’ve come.”

Joe Barksdale

Which footballers have had the Autism test?
Joseph Barksdale of the LSU Tigers celebrates a win against the Texas A&M Aggies during the AT&T Cotton Bowl at Cowboys Stadium in January 2011 in Arlington, Texas. Photo by Ronald Martinez.
Source: Getty Images

Meet Joseph Barksdale, an American football player with adult autism. At 30 years of age, the NFL offensive tackle was diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum disorder. Having lived with difficulty in fitting in socially, the former LA Chargers player was grateful to understand the symptoms he had finally.

It is evident from the successful careers of famous athletes with Aspergers and autism that you can excel at football with the disorder. Young autistic football players, such as 15-year-old (at the time of writing) striker Evan of the Cwm Wanderers' Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) Football academy and Rogers High School's kicker, Rhett Powers, continue to inspire.

There may not be many footballers with autism in the world. However, the athletes sharing their stories with the world have opened the way for more up-and-coming athletes to overcome their challenges.

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Ciku Njuguna photo
Ciku Njuguna
Ciku Njuguna is a journalist with 3 year’s experience in content creation based in Kenya. She currently covers sports personnel as well as team biographies.