The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Globe Life

February 18, 2013

Jacque Gage: Autistic savant's story enlightening

JOPLIN, Mo. — I have a little confession to make: I have a very unsophisticated way of choosing the books I read.

It gets even more unsophisticated when I go online to download an e-book or audiobook from our collection. When I do that, it generally means that I need something to read right now.

There is a nifty feature on the Joplin Public Library's online portal (www. molib2go.org) that makes my decision easier. By checking a box labeled "Available Now," readers can filter results to show only titles that are available immediately.

When I bring up the titles, I search for a title (and accompanying cover) that catches whatever whimsy I am feeling that day, as was the case recently. The book that caught my fancy was "Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Mind of an Autistic Savant" by Daniel Tammet.

Although it's been around for a long time, autism began to be written about in the 1940s. Asperger's syndrome didn't become an official diagnosis until 1992. When my children were born in the '80s, I had heard of autism but didn't know of anyone on the autism spectrum.

That's all changed now. I dare say everyone knows a person or family affected by autism. Joplin is fortunate to be home to the Bill & Virginia Leffen Center for Autism. When I saw the subtitle of the book, I was intrigued.

"Born on a Blue Day" is written by a man considered an "autistic savant," because of his mathematical prowess and linguistic abilities. Born in 1979, Tammet was a difficult baby. He cried continually, day and night. Doctors were unable to give his parents any reason for his incessant crying other than colic.

His behavior was equally challenging. He reports banging his head against the living-room wall to the point of bruising, despite his parents' efforts to stop him. Along with head banging was rhythmic rocking, violent tantrums, head slapping and screaming.

I can only imagine from a parent's point of view how utterly frustrating and exhausting this must have been.

When Tammet began to speak about his parents and how they handled his issues, I thought, "Oh boy, here it comes." I imagined he was going to describe the parents from hell. Instead, throughout the book he only has positive things to say about the way his parents championed him and encouraged him.

Tammet describes how he sees the world. For example, he sees Wednesdays as blue. He was born on a Wednesday, hence the title of his book.

He sees numbers as having shape, color, texture and motion. For example, "The number 1 ... is a brilliant and bright white ... Five is a clap of thunder ... 37 is lumpy like porridge, while 89 reminds me of falling snow."

Mathematical calculations are favorites of his, particularly power multiplication -- multiplying numbers by themselves a particular number of times. He sees patterns in his head that give him the correct answer. For example, 37 to the 5th power (69,343,957) is a large circle composed of smaller circles running clockwise from the top around.

Tammet is also gifted linguistically. He talks about learning languages and how he masters them easily. He speaks about 10 different languages, even going as far as mastering Icelandic in one week.

The book is interesting because he gives examples of how his sight translates to the rest of us. This, however, is also one of the weaknesses of the book. There are times the explanations and examples go into too much detail.

The book is also one of triumph, showing the transition Tammet makes as an outsider who is known for being weird and having no friends, to someone who has learned to cope with the world and make the most of his special abilities.

This book was also educational for me. It was fascinating to see why autistic children perform certain actions. It gave me a glimpse into a different world.

Joplin Public Library has "Born on a Blue Day" in print, on CD and in downloadable audiobook formats.

Jacque Gage is director of the Joplin Public Library.

1
Text Only
Globe Life
  • 041314_cj glass1.jpg Carl Junction students create projects, win awards at national contest with glass arts

    The students are part of a new glass arts class at Carl Junction High School taught by Jessica Sellars, a graduate of the school who earned her bachelor's degree from Missouri Southern State University and her masters of art education from Pittsburg State University. The art teacher taught for 20 years at Coronado High School, located in Henderson, Nev.

    April 13, 2014 2 Photos

  • ryan richardson Ryan Richardson: K-9 unit receives protection from donors

    I know I write a lot about pet advocacy in this column, but for a moment, I want to write about pet heroes.

    April 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • 091108-Frankie-Meyer_c.jpg Frankie Meyer: Website helps locate library microfilms

    Family history researchers must be determined sleuths to learn about some ancestors who don't show up in easily-obtained records. This week, I learned about a free resource that will help in the search of elusive ancestors.

    April 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • images_sizedimage_032123610 Patty Crane: Reporter's mea culpa found in identity theft

    As I was browsing the library's list of new materials for March, "True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa" by Michael Finkel caught my attention.

    April 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • 091108-Frankie-Meyer_c.jpg Frankie Meyer Website helps locate library microfilms

    Family history researchers must be determined sleuths to learn about some ancestors who don't show up in easily-obtained records. This week, I learned about a free resource that will help in the search of elusive ancestors.

    April 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • images_sizedimage_312124454 Linda Cannon: Gardening book helps plan for spring

    In springtime, many of us think of gardening, so, come snow or sleet or whatever, it's time to get into those gardening books and see what improvements can be made to our yards (or decks or patios if that's all you have).

    April 6, 2014 1 Photo

  • ryan richardson Ryan Richardson: Pet deposits legal in Missouri, vary by state

    Building upon last week's column about what goes into moving and renting with pets, I wanted to touch on something that I wasn't too sure a lot of people were familiar with. I had a few people ask me about the legalities of a pet deposit and how it applies to residents in Missouri.

    April 6, 2014 1 Photo

  • 091108-Frankie-Meyer_c.jpg Frankie Meyer: Website allows access to news archives

    Between 1982 and 2011, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress worked together to develop a program called "Chronicling America." Each year, NEH gave monetary awards to institutions in various states to digitize 100,000 pages of old newspapers that relate to each state's history.

    April 6, 2014 1 Photo

  • 040214 LIFE barbershop2_c.jpg Barbershop choirs grow in popularity thanks to singing TV shows, pop culture

    Singers call it the "angel's voice." The phenomenon occurs when a group of singers reach an identical chord, voices blended together as one, the harmonics justly tuned and balanced, creating a new frequency of sound that can "literally raise up the hair on the arm," said Don Snow.

    April 6, 2014 1 Photo

  • 091108-Frankie-Meyer_c.jpg Frankie Meyer: Berries were big business in Southwest Missouri history

    Recently, I noticed some blooms on my strawberry plants on the patio, and I was reminded of my youth in the Ozarks when children often earned money by picking strawberries in the fields of local farmers. I, along with my sisters, brother and all the other children in the area, looked forward to the experience each summer.

    March 31, 2014 1 Photo

Facebook
Poll

A Missouri Senate committee has endorsed a 1-cent sales tax increase to fund transportation projects. The proposed constitutional amendment passed the House earlier this month. If passed by the full Senate, the measure would head to the November ballot for voter approval. Would you vote in favor of it?

Yes.
No.
     View Results
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
NDN Video
Captain of Sunken SKorean Ferry Arrested Raw: Fire Destroys 3 N.J. Beachfront Homes Raw: Pope Presides Over Good Friday Mass Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Superheroes Descend on Capitol Mall Man Charged in Kansas City Highway Shootings Obama Awards Navy Football Trophy Anti-semitic Leaflets Posted in Eastern Ukraine Raw: Magnitude-7.2 Earthquake Shakes Mexico City Ceremony at MIT Remembers One of Boston's Finest Raw: Students Hurt in Colo. School Bus Crash Raw: Church Tries for Record With Chalk Jesus Raw: Faithful Celebrate Good Friday Worldwide Deadly Avalanche Sweeps Slopes of Mount Everest Police Arrest Suspect in Highway Shootings Drought Concerns May Hurt Lake Tourism Vermont Goat Meat Gives Refugees Taste of Home Calif. Investigators Re-construct Fatal Bus Cras Mayor Rob Ford Launches Re-election Campaign Appellate Court Hears Okla. Gay Marriage Case