I just read an interesting book by a fellow who is autistic enough (a ‘savant‘) to be able to relate to Kim Peek (inspiration for the ‘Rainman‘) and perform instantaneous and synesthetic generations of arithmetic and visual number-scapes—and yet un-autistic enough to relate his inner experiences to the outer world. The book is simple (I read it in a day), but engaging in its simplicity. Tammet’s discovery of emotion, empathy, and the ability to share his inner world with others is heartening to read, while also giving ‘normal’ people insight into the autistic mind. I think what I found most insightful about it was that Tammet’s development seems to be so dependent on the initial acceptance and patience of his parents in his formative years. He describes them as “his heroes.” Imagine all the autistic children out there who are not so lucky to have patient and unconditionally loving parents. Having this formative basis of support, Tammet has the confidence to use his savant skill of acquiring foreign languages in Lithuania, and break out of his shell by discovering that he is perfectly able to teach and relate to foreigners. (I recall in my childhood relating more to foreign students than to my hometown friends. I ain’t autistic—I’m just saying.) He also discovers that the internet provides a social network that is suited perfectly for the autistic mind—social interactions are straightforward and emotions are graphic and easily graspable :) He discovers love on-line, and subsequently goes on to find ways to use his innate powers to connect to other people through his on-line language school, and through TV science programs (and David Letterman).
All in all, I think a lot is made out of his exceptional savant abilities and autistic inwardness. But the most compelling thing about this book isn’t about how special and intelligent he is. It’s about how truly human he is.