Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Autism in the media: Daniel Tammet

Dear 20/20: on behalf of the Autistic community I'd just like to thank you for featuring Daniel Tammet on your show. He is just one positive example of what someone on the Autism Spectrum can accomplish.

A select quote:

Daniel Tammet was born in London, in 1979, with congenital childhood epilepsy. A series of seizures as a young child changed forever the way Daniel saw the world around him. For one thing, Daniel was able to literally ‘see’ numbers in his head as if they were images. Not surprisingly, he quickly became proficient in number patterns, able to figure various roots, powers; even the decimal expansions for prime number fractions—often quicker than a friend with a calculator.

A high-functioning autistic savant, Daniel outgrew his disability. His astonishing mental skills however remained. As an example, following an invitation from organizers, he attended the largest ever ‘Memory Olympics’ in London in 2000. He won a gold medal and was subsequently invited to London’s Institute of Neurology to undergo tests for a landmark study of prodigious mental ability. The summarized data, co-written by some of Britain’s leading brain scientists, appeared in the New Year 2003 edition of the highly prestigious
Natureneuro-scientific magazine.
- Wisconsin Medical Society

In the documentary, "The Boy with the Incredible Brain", Daniel discusses the way in which he solves mathematical equations: Because he has synesthesia, he sees every number as a shape with a particular color; every number in an equation will fit together, with the answer wedged in the middle. It is truly phenomenal what the brain can accomplish, even if we don't have brains such as Daniel's.

Here is a video of Daniel explaining his synesthesia:

On a dare, Daniel was also able to become fluent in Icelandic, one of the world's most difficult languages, in a week.

Not only am I proud to have people like Daniel to represent us on the Autism spectrum, I am pleased that news reporters have chosen to focus on his positive traits and the amazing things he's done, rather than his shortcomings. I'm proud of Daniel for stepping up and giving the world a wonderful view of what he can do, allowing us to step into the marvelous thing that is his mind. Hopefully this is a new age in the representation of Autism in the media. Autism Speaks, your days are numbered!

I'm also astonished that our brains can accomplish such incredible things. As humans, we are equipped with the capacity to do amazing things, far more than we are able to realize. Even if we can't memorize thousands of digits of Pi, we are able to create images and new dimensions that we ourselves can't even dream of. I'm often astonished by what I can create, including realizations and artwork. Never stop being amazed at your capacities!

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