A Book Review by: Paul Harris, OD
At a recent OEP Regional Clinical Seminar on the optometric care of patients on the autism spectrum, Dr. Vicky Vandervort gave me an unexpected surprise when she handed me a copy of this book. This is an engaging story about Daniel Tammet a high-functioning man who talks about his life with Asperger’s in a way that makes it quite accessible.
Daniel suffered a seizure early in life after which he seemed to emerge with heightened affinity for numbers and the emergence of synesthesia, the association of sensory experiences with each other. Daniel experiences numbers as having many very interesting qualities including size and color. He strings them together into landscapes that allow him to remember long strings of numbers. Then taking a walk back through these landscapes, he calls off the sights he sees.
His early interest in numbers on top of his Asperger’s and the results of the single seizure left him as a savant in the area of numbers and calculations. He can easily translate just about any calendar date to the day of the week in seconds and can do some extremely difficult calculations in seconds. He has been known to do long division and carry the results out to more than 100 decimal places. Rather than actually calculate in his mind he simply intuits the answer and it comes to him in the form of a landscape in his mind that he “reads” off through his synesthesia.
For all the special qualities he has during most of the book I was thinking about the number of patients, families and loved ones connected in some manner with those who are on the autism spectrum. It would be valuable and uplifting to read through this book. Thus, my strong recommendation that every health care professional who works with patients with autism to not only read the book themselves but have the book available as part of an in-office library.
Additionally, a documentary entitled Brainman was done and which can be viewed on line athttp://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-2598363071375453449 .
Here is a paragraph that I found particularly interesting as it relates to the visual process:
“When I walked, even out on the street, I always kept my head firmly down and watched my feet as they moved. Often I would bump into things and suddenly stop walking. My mother walked with me and kept trying to remind me to bring my head up, but even when I did it would quickly fall back down again. Eventually, she asked me to pick out a point – a fence or a tree or a building – in the distance and to keep watching it as I walked. This simple idea helped me to keep my head up, and over the following months my coordination improved a lot; I stopped walking into things and my confidence grew.” (p 87)
It reminds me so much of the prime purpose of the visual process which is to direct movement and how much better our movements are and how much more confidence in ourselves we can have when we move better.
Early in the book he spoke of his ability to visualize words that interested me.
“I was able to visualize each word in my head, based on the shape its letters formed. The word dog, for example, is made up of three circles with an upward line on the first letter and a downward loop on the last. The word actually looks quite like a dog if you imagine the upward line as the dog’s ear and the downward loop as the tail. Similarly, the two os in ‘look’ reminded me of a pair of eyes.” (p 51)
Here is a statistic I had not heard before. Keep in mind that this is from the UK. However, I would suspect that conditions are pretty similar here in the US.
“Research in 2001 by the U.K.’s National Autistic Society indicated that only 12 percent of those with high-functioning autism or Asperger’s syndrome had full-time jobs. In contrast, 49 percent of people with other disabilities and 81 percent of people who are not disabled were in employment in 2003, according to the U.K.’s Office for National Statistics.” (p 147)
Thanks again to Dr. Vandervort for giving me the gift of this book. I hope that my writing here stimulates you to get a copy of the book, to watch the video and to recommend the book to others.