Sunday, November 20, 2005

Synthesasia and high IQ autism - case report

[original point via medlogs]

Daniel has fairly severe autism, a high IQ, some extraordinary intellectual abilities, and synesthasia. It's an unusal combination; such case reports define new countries of the mind. Daniel is a generous explorer. One of the most interesting aspects of his story is that he appears to have compensated for some of his core autistic disabilities ...
ABC News: Savant Gives Window to World of Autism

June 11, 2005 — - Daniel Tammet of England can verbally reel off the number pi to 22,500 decimal places in just over five hours -- though he admitted after a recent demostration that it made him "very tired."

Tammet, 26, is a phenomenon. He has done lots of amazing things -- like learning Icelandic, one of the world's most difficult languages, in just seven days.

That's because Tammet is an autistic savant. His extraordinary abilities stem from a combination of autism and a condition known as synesthesia...

... There are perhaps fewer than 50 autistic savants in the world, according to estimates by experts. Those few are people with remarkable, often staggering skills and challenges.

... he doesn't like to come to a beach just a few minutes from his home because it is made up of pebbles — too many even for him to count. That makes him uncomfortable.

Tammet can't drive or do many other things that require basic coordination. Just walking is something he had to do through an effort of will.

"I had to teach myself how to look and how to walk," he said, "how to move myself, how to coordinate myself without falling over, without looking down, without getting absorbed in my own self, my own world."

... After years of effort, Tammet has overcome many of his autistic disabilities. Now living outside of London, not only can he relate to people, he can describe what the experience of autism is like from the inside.

He loves silence, for instance.

"I experience it as like a silvery texture around my head, like condensation running down a window," he said. "If there's a sudden noise, it's like a shattering of that feeling."

... one might say Tammet has come back from the country of autism, which is a very difficult place for researchers and for parents to reach.

"I've come from a place where I felt so lonely, and so unwanted in a way," Tammet said. "And I've come along this road, and I've found this bridge, and I've come across it. And I don't know how, I don't know why, but I'm here and I'm able to talk to you today. And, for me, that's amazing."
There's an emerging meme in autism and brain research that in some people a specialized brain subsystem can compensate for a deficit in a related subsystem. Perhaps the frontal cortex, for example, may compensate for missing capabilities in the prefrontal cortext. If this does occur we may be learn to induce such compensation through training and therapy, even in children and adults who are not gifted.

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