The Boy with the Incredible Brain – Daniel Tammet

What is autism and so-called ‘autistic spectrum disorder’? It is a question that is difficult to ask of many people with autism because of their acute linguistic and communication difficulties. On the other hand, will we get a useful answer by asking atypical individuals with ‘high functioning autism’ like Daniel Tammet, John Elder Robison and Temple Grandin, who are not only independent but able to write books and communicate about their perspective? Are their views representative of this group in society?

Daniel Tammet is on many measures an exceptional individual. He is a savant with exceptional numerical and memory skills. … Read more...

John Elder Robison – Look Me In The Eye, My Life With Asperger’s

This entertaining read takes us through John Elder Robison’s American boyhood and first twenty years of adult life. It is varied and funny, with wonderful tales of boyhood pranks, disordered family life, and roadie adventures with rock bands. John Elder Robison’s belated realisation that he has Asperger’s syndrome gives the whole narrative an analytic flavour. Each event, mannerism, habit of reasoning, preference of sensory experience, aspect of his sense of humour, and even career decision, is explained and characterised in terms of the author’s adult diagnosis with Asperger’s. This is very useful for people who need to understand what Robison … Read more...

John Elder Robison – Switched On: My Journey from Asperger’s to Emotional Awakening

John Elder Robison had lived with Asperger’s until he was 50, and indeed wrote a book about growing up with Asperger’s – Look Me In The Eye. In 2008 he volunteered to be a participant in a TMS research study at Alvaro Pascual-Leone’s lab in Boston, USA. This is his amazing account of his experience of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) to the frontal cortex, which caused, among other things, changes in a range of abilities and skills: to sense emotion in music, to be aware of other people’s feelings, to interpret facial expressions, and to feel comfortable meeting their … Read more...

Oliver Sacks – The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat

Oliver Sacks differentiates his vignettes from conventional medical case histories by their engagement with ‘the person, and the experience of the person, as he faces, and struggles to survive, his disease’. This collection of portraits is therefore included in these ‘illness narratives’ for their insights into the personal experience of different conditions. It is for the reader to judge how well Sacks fulfils his undertaking to engage with the individual and enter his experience. When I read these today, I am very aware of Sacks the neurologist, determined to classify exactly, using exactly the correct medical terminology. But perhaps his … Read more...

Daniel Tammet – Born on a Blue Day

What is autism and so-called ‘autistic spectrum disorder’? It is a question that is difficult to ask of many people with autism because of their acute linguistic and communication difficulties. On the other hand, will we get a useful answer by asking atypical individuals with ‘high functioning autism’ like Daniel Tammet, John Elder Robison and Temple Grandin, who are not only independent but able to write books and communicate about their perspective? Are their views representative of this group in society?

Daniel Tammet is on many measures an exceptional individual. He is a savant with exceptional numerical and memory skills. … Read more...

Naoki Higashida – Fall Down Seven Times, Get Up Eight

The Reason I Jump was the book of a 13 year old, but Naoki Higashida’s new book, Fall Down Seven Times Get Up Eight is that of an accomplished writer, written when the author was in his late teens and early 20s. What makes the accomplished writing in this book all the more remarkable is that the author has a severe sensori-motor processing and communication impairment, requiring a QWERTY pointerboard to painstakingly spell out the Japanese letters for his words. It is hard to imagine from the skillful poems and reflective pieces in this book that the author finds it … Read more...

Naoki Higashida – The Reason I Jump

Naoki’s books are mind-boggling. David Mitchell refers to the books by people with autism as ‘autism-witness texts’, and all of Naoki’s books come into that category. However, Naoki’s first book, The Reason I Jump, is exceptional in that it was written when he was 13, even as he was working on his verbal skills and trying to develop communication. As he writes to the ‘neurotypical’ reader, “have a nice trip through our world”. Each sentence was transmitted via his alphabet board, on which Naoki points to the letters that spell out Japanese hiragana characters. This is a laborious process, … Read more...