Friday, January 26, 2007
Overcoming Asperger's Syndrome
Daniel Tammet sees the world differently from the rest of us. For the 27-year-old Brit, numbers possess distinct sizes and colors and personalities. For example, sixes are tiny black dots, like holes, while ones are bright white. Nines are immense, and threes are round. Fives are loud, and fours are shy and quiet. Tammet's intimate association with numbers also allows him to calculate huge sums in his head without thinking, much like Dustin Hoffman's character Raymond Babbitt in the movie Rainman. The answer simply appears in his head. For example, when he divides two numbers, he sees in his mind's eye a spiral rotating down until it reveals the quotient - to almost 100 decimal places. These mathematical abilities make Tammet what is known as a prodigious savant, one of perhaps 100 in the world.
Tammet also has Asperger's Syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism. In his new memoir "Born on a Blue Day," Tammet describes his mathematical genius in fascinating detail. More interesting still is Tammet's description of his childhood and adolescence with Asperger's, a condition that makes it difficult to read others' emotions or decipher expressions that are not literal. Even though children with Asperger's often possess higher-than-average intelligence, they have difficulty making friends and functioning in social situations. As a result, they often experience profound isolation and loneliness. Tammet describes these feelings in detail, without self-pity. His book lets you see the world through his eyes, as a loner who stayed on the fringe of the playground during recess, an outsider looking in who was often subjected to the teasing and ridicule of his classmates.
Tammet's book joins a growing bibliography of excellent writing that gets inside the mind of those with Asperger's. Others include the novel "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time," by Mark Hadden, a former teacher, and the memoirs of Temple Grandin, "Thinking in Pictures: And Other Reports From My Life With Autism" and "Animals in Translation: Using the Mystery of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior."
Tammet, the subject of a documentary titled 'Brainman/The Boy with the Incredible Brain," first came to worldwide attention when he memorized pi to 22,514 decimal places. Simply saying that many digits took five hours. In addition to his extraordinary facility with numbers, Tammet is able to pick up languages with ease. He has learned Lithuanian, Spanish, Romanian, Welsh, French, German, Esperanto and Icelandic. He learned to speak Icelandic in a week and then appeared on a talk show there, conversing easily with the two interviewers on the current affairs program Kastljos (Spotlight). He now runs a web-based business for language tutorials.
From his awkward and isolated childhood, Tammet has emerged as a successful adult, comfortable in his own skin. You may know people like Tammet. What are their stories?
ABOUT THE BLOGGet a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends -- info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.
PREVIOUS POSTS• There's more to hot sauce than just heat
• Bush health plan: will it help you?
• Buying cells & buying hope?
• The state of health care
• A former journalist battles heart disease
• My childhood memories of cancer
• Paying the price for preventive care
• Hunting for clues to Castro's health
• Stop a killer, but promote sex? That is the questi...
• Livestrong: A life changing moment