|Photo by F.W. Moore, 1888|
Since his death in 1889, his legend has grown - Pearl Jam immortalized him in song - and thousands have flocked to see his pauper's grave and the plaque that bears what is probably not his real name. There's a controversy now about whether his body should be exhumed and his grave moved (it is too close to a highway). Caretakers of the burial site also want to have the Leather Man's remains tested to try to solve some of the mysteries of his life, including whether he was autistic.
I'm not going to weigh in on the ethics of moving or testing the Leather Man's body, but I find it very strange that archaeologists would bother testing these old bones for autism: there is no reliable genetic test for autism. The best genetic test available, chromosomal microarray analysis, only detects autism in about 7% of individuals who have been diagnosed under DSM-IV guidelines. We do not yet have a genetic test to conclusively confirm an autism diagnosis in the remaining 90+% of the ASD population. This means there is also no genetic analysis that could rule out an autism diagnosis.
But for the popular parlor game, "Did This Historic Figure have Autism," the Leather Man sounds like a likely candidate: living alone, not speaking, following a predictable route for years on end. I doubt his bones would speak louder than his actions on this subject.