Inside the mind of an autistic savant

New Scientist has an interesting interview with Daniel Tammet, a young man with with Asperger’s syndrome, synaesthesia and amazing savant memory skills.

Tammet has also been the subject of scientific investigation, with a 2007 study published in the journal Neurocase examining how activity in his brain is related to his exceptional recall.

Tammet is interesting because savantism is usually associated with people with quite profound autism who are not easily able to communicate their experiences. Owing to the fact that Tammet is highly articulate, he describes how his experiences his mind in wonderful detail.

You also excel at learning languages. How do you pick them up so quickly?

I have synaesthesia, which helps. When there is an overlap between how I visualise a word and its meaning, that helps me remember it. For example, if a word that means “fire” in a new language happens to appear orange to me, that will help me remember it. But more significant is my memory and ability to spot patterns and find relationships between words. Fundamentally, languages are clusters of meaning – that is what grammar is about. This is also why languages interest me so much. My mind is interested in breaking things down and understanding complex relationships.

A documentary about Tammet, called The Boy with the Incredible Brain is available on Google Video and shows him at work as well as talking to neuropsychologists about savant skills.

Link to interview with Tammet at NewSci.
Link to documentary The Boy with the Incredible Brain.

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