Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Book Provides Insights Into Our Son’s Mind

I often wish that I could be inside my son’s mind to know what he is thinking or feeling.  Although he speaks much more these days than he did not long ago, Kai still struggles with answering questions or expressing his thoughts in great detail.  And so, my wife and I are often left to try and guess why he is upset or feeling the way he is.

Therefore, we welcome the chance to gain insights from others on the autism spectrum who are able to articulate their thoughts and feelings.  A book we’re currently reading does just that.

Born On A Blue Day is the autobiography of Daniel Tammet, an autistic savant with Asperger’s Syndrome.  Tammet is perhaps best known for memorizing and reciting the mathematical number pi to over 22,000 digits. He also speaks ten languages.  

My son’s kindergarten teacher from last school year actually suggested the book to us.  She told us that as she read the book, she saw tidbits that reminded her of Kai.  And, as we read the book, we, too, saw some similarities between the author and our son. 

The most obvious is that like Tammet, Kai has an obsession with numbers.  While I doubt that Kai will ever do anything as outrageous as memorizing pi to 22,000 digits, he has memorized the highway exit numbers of many places he has traveled to, including places he has been to only once. 

Another thing that was familiar to us came out through an anecdote Tammet gives. When he was young, his parents were very reluctant to bring their son into stores because he would always have a tantrum.  When they found out that he was attracted to the Mr. Men books with their fascinating colors and shapes, they used these books as incentive to encourage good behavior in the stores.  It wasn’t long before Daniel had the entire collection.  Tammet said that he was comforted by the books’ page numbers and colored shapes.  We, too, used these books as incentive for Kai as he was hooked on them, perhaps for similar reasons. 

Although we found a number of similarities between Tammet and Kai, there are many differences as well.  Most striking are in personality where Tammet does not like to socialize whereas Kai does, although he has not yet developed the skills to do it well.

Tammet goes on to describe challenges he faced growing up.  Things like his difficulties in getting a job, and his first relationship.

What we like most is that the book gives us a relatively rare chance to gain insights into how Kai, and other children like him, may be feeling at times.  It is perhaps especially helpful in understanding how the brain and mind can work with heightened sensitivities in specific areas.

My fondest dream is for Kai to one day be able to articulate these thoughts himself. Until then, I am thankful to have books like this one.  

To see the amazing Daniel Tammet, check out this documentary.

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