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Autistic savants


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#16 citibob

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Posted 26 November 2003 - 05:30 PM

As for Thomas Edison, one can search Google and come to one's own conclusions.

http://www.google.co...G=Google Search

#17 Mel Johnson

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Posted 26 November 2003 - 05:40 PM

Like conversations with furniture, the psychological profiling of dead persons is seldom productive.

#18 Treefrog

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Posted 26 November 2003 - 05:51 PM

Meaning no disrespect, citibob, but retrospective diagnosis is risky. I attended a symposium just last week on autism and Asperger's syndrome, and the presenter -- an Ivy League professor who heads an autism clinic -- specifically addressed this issue. He named another celebrity that people often characterize as being on the spectrum, and said simply, "I've never met the man, I've never had a chance to examine him systematically. I cannot make a diagnosis."

#19 Funny Face

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Posted 26 November 2003 - 08:10 PM

Wait -- what's wrong with talking to furniture? As in, "Blast you, you @#!$@#!S!!!" when I cut the corner too sharply in walking by a desk. I talk to walls too. The ones I clip with my shoulder. I can't be the only one people chide, "Dance much?" I know, I know, off topic ...

However, in reading through this thread, it seems that because, as vagansmom pointed out, autism was once recognized only in its severest form, there seems to be a hazy blend of the effects of autism and abuse. In other words, there are many souls whose problems were exacerbated by others' lack of understanding as to just what was 'wrong' with them. These are the people who may have seemed relatively functional, but somehow didn't fit in. As a consequence, the problem worsens.

#20 sandik

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Posted 26 November 2003 - 10:26 PM

I hesitate to add to this conversation, but I wanted to underline a couple of things. The young man in the Wired article is not typical of most autistic people, as the author points out. Very occasionally savantry comes with autism, but most often not. As other people here have noted, there is a wide spectrum of autism, from "high functioning," where the person may appear slightly disoriented or spacey, to profoundly affected, where the person cannot function without significant support. Temple Grandin, whose book "Thinking in Pictures" is very readable, is an excellent example of someone who could be classified as "high-functioning."

I have not read everything in the field, but as far as I know, it is not universally accepted that autism is hereditary.

There have certainly been savants in dance, if by that you mean someone who can learn an extended sequence by seeing it once. In "Dance to the Piper" Agnes de Mille said that Frederick Franklin could learn a tap routine the first time he heard it.

"Like conversations with furniture, the psychological profiling of dead persons is seldom productive."

Is this anything like hen dentistry?

#21 Amy Reusch

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Posted 26 November 2003 - 10:43 PM

I have some non too reliable memories from going to the Edison museum in NJ a few times in my childhood...

I remember something about him being home schooled... I believe there was something about his teacher telling his mother he couldn't learn ('too stupid to learn' comes to mind) and his mother refusing to accept that and taking his education into her own hands...

I also remember a story about his deafness that when he was working on the railroad... or as a child... or some such thing... that he was running for a train and the conductor picked him up by his ears... and his deafness resulted... Now, admittedly, I heard this as a child, and children can often not quite get right all the details of a story... but I'm sure I was told it... I can almost picture the old lady tour guide (who had worked for him) telling the story.... and I certainly thought about it a lot as a child.

There was also something about his liking to take catnaps... and having a cot in his study and ?lab? for that purpose... that he preferred to take short catnaps and work rather than sleep all night...

Now my father who was an engineer in NJ had heard from older colleagues that he was a narcoleptic... and that while it might have seemed inspiring that he would work without normal sleep that it was no picnic to work for him because he expected all his key engineers to be awake and working when he was.

So I think there may have be something to the theory he was autistic.

#22 Mel Johnson

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Posted 27 November 2003 - 01:41 AM

About the only useful knowledge gained from an analysis of a subject who was not directly examined was WWII Intelligence profiling of Adolf Hitler (who may have been within the autistic spectrum, too)! "Wild Bill" Donovan of the Office of Strategic Services offered that in the closing months of the war, it was unwise to try to target Hitler, as his autocratic management of the war was so incompetent that his removal would only prolong it by facing the allies with actual German generals who would no longer be overruled from Berlin.

#23 citibob

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Posted 27 November 2003 - 06:01 AM

Mel, why is it so important to discredit any autistic diagnosis for Edison? And also, why not Einstein?

It's true, most autistics are not savants. But there are many very bright autistics. "High functioning" autism is defined by a score of 70 or better on an IQ test (that is, within 2 standard deviations of "normal" score).

Temple Grandin is much more than "high functioning". She is actually quite a brilliant woman with a PhD, one who has had a significant effect on an important industry. No she's not a savant, but most brilliant people who have made significant contributions to our world are not either.

It's likely that autistic people span the range of intelligence, just like others do. Many things that others take for granted, the autistic person must learn carefully. The most intelligent autistics with a keen eye for observation and analysis will eventually figure these things out and can go on to great things in life. They maybe be labeled "high functioning" or not even labeled at all. Just because they've figured out how to deal with the world does not mean they're no longer autistic; it just means they've figured out how to pretend to be normal.

The story is very different for less intelligent autistics. If they never achieve certain skills --- such as talking --- then they will fall further and further behind their peers as time goes by. They will consequently score very low on IQ tests and require institutionalization, no matter what their intelligence could have been. It's like being locked inside a box with no way out at that point. These people get all the press because they're so obviously "disabled".

The education of the autistic child must focus on unlocking the box and teaching the child to deal with the world. If that can be done, then the autistic child will grow into an autistic adult whose gifts can be recognized by the larger society --- whether those gifts are great or small. Raw intelligence can never hurt in this process.

#24 Mel Johnson

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Posted 27 November 2003 - 06:08 AM

Because I know nothing of Einstein's childhood. I know a good deal about Edison's. I don't think he is diagnosable in retrospect, any more than I think that George Washington can be positively diagnosed today as having been sterile 200+ years ago.

#25 vagansmom

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Posted 27 November 2003 - 07:37 AM

With all due respect, I think that trying to decide whether or not Edison fit an autistic profile is similar to trying to decide whether or not FDR actually had some other disease rather than polio (what disease did they mention in the news recently as the possible real cause of his paralysis?), whether Woodrow Wilson's encephalitis lethargica and possible resultant Parkinsonism was responsible for his erratic behavior, whether Lincoln had Marfan Syndrome, etc. We humans need to categorize and we like to do so with familiar figures of the past and present. I don't think there's any harm in such conjecture, especially when we're not stating anything negative about the individual under discussion.

And I don't think of the highest-functioning autistics as being disabled. In fact, for those people I don't even like the term "high-functioning". For that matter, I'M a high-functioning ADD'er, but we don't use the term that way for folks with ADD. I think it's time to move past that term for people with certain autistic traits. It's a negative connotation.

The genius of some autistics gives me great wonder and I feel privileged to know them. Others, though, are among my most challenging and difficult students and I'm often handicapped in trying to figure out how best to help them cope with school. So, like any collection of personalities, there are positive and negative behaviors among autistics and a huge range of capabilities. Temple Grandin herself, in her books, mentions various public personages and wonders if they fit an autistic profile. Because she has Asperger's, she's incapable of lying and she's also incapable of expressing an opinion that hasn't been researched to the max! So I would weight her opinion highly in any such discussion. (But I've loaned my Grandin books out so I can't look up Edison in them).

Because the word autism still brings to mind severely disabled individuals, many people think of it as a very debilitating disorder. I think that eventually we will be better able to tease out the distinctions between those individuals and the others on the autistic spectrum (aka autistic continuum), most likely through genetic studies, and at that point we'll probably give them separate names. And then perhaps no one will feel uneasy at the idea of naming certain collections of personality traits. Because, really, that's all it's about, giving some traits a name.

And I still like, respectfully, to try to figure out which people, past and present, fit what kind of profile. I especially like to do that with personalities in the dance world because they ARE so colorful! It doesn't alter my respect, or lack of, whatsoever of them. Being a people watcher, it just affords me the opportunity to engage in another activity I'm drawn to: classifying.

Happy Thanksgiving ALL - my break time is over and the guests are soon to arrive.

#26 Alexandra

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Posted 27 November 2003 - 08:50 AM

I'd suggest we leave Edison, or continue that discussion in PMs or email, and come back to artists :wink:


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