Saturday, June 06, 2009

Spectrum Saturdays & The Brain Man

This week on the Discovery channel, I watched a program called The Brain Man which talked a lot about savantism. We all remember the first Autistic Savant in popular culture. Dustin Hoffman's portrayal of Math savant "Rain Man" won him an Academy Award. It turns out that Savants are often Autistic, though certainly not all Autistics are savants.

The main person discussed in The Brain Man was Daniel Tammet a Math Savant who can rattle off Pi to the 22,500th decimal point. It's really rather impressive. He's capable of doing huge Mathematical equations in his head, and has a memory for numbers like nothing most of us have ever seen. Tammet also suffers from synesthesia which causes him to experience numbers in a way most people do not. It apparently started when he was a child and had seizures. Interestingly, numbers are a pretty common interest for Autistics. I think it's because their world is so chaotic, they gravitate toward things that bring order. Hence, liking numbers, lining up objects, etc.

Daniel Tammet, the Brain Man, is from Britain, and during the course of the show, they took him to an Autism specialist, since as I said, savants are so often Autistic. They wanted to find out if Daniel was, too. According to his wikipedia, he's been diagnosed with Asperger's, but the doctor on the show didn't know if he could diagnose him. Daniel had many classic signs of Autism that could lead him to the diagnosis, except one. He was fairly social.

I wondered how that could be since he stated he didn't really have friends in school. In fact the bullies were so perplexed by him, he said, that they didn't know how to tease him and mostly left him alone. So, how could a kid so different that he had no friends, and who is so classicaly Autistic in so many ways, have such good social skills? Then I realized something. Daniel Tammet is one of nine children.

Tammet may not have gotten much social practice at school, but there were 8 Neurotypical (NT) kids who were interacting with him on a daily basis at home. They taught him how to be in the world when it would not have come naturally for him anywhere else. At least that's my theory.

I don't know that family size and Autism has been studied much. And I don't think it's the answer to curing it. But I can't help but think that there's something to be said for the loving interaction of NT siblings with Autistic children. Ciaran's teacher was talking to me about respite care and setting up interactions with Ciaran and other children, but then she stopped herself. We don't need those things. The interaction of Ciaran's siblings is often just as valuable, if not more so, than mine. And he's interacting with them on a daily basis in a way he doesn't with the Autistic children at school. Likewise, Reagan may not be the most popular kid in school (they know he's different) but he does have friends, and he does get along okay.

I wonder if our family size choices would have been the same if we'd known long ago that Reagan had Autism. Perhaps we wouldn't have had more children. Maybe we'd have had just one more. I don't know. But in a way, I'm glad we didn't know. I'm glad we've had all of our kids. I think, despite the challenges, some of the best therapy we have to offer our boys is this family itself.

If you'd like to write a Spectrum Saturdays post, or are writing about Autism, please leave me a comment!

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