Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet, A Memoir of Asperger’s and an Extraordinary Mind
Daniel Tammet has Savant syndrome, a particularly rare type of Asperger’s syndrome (AS) which gives him unusual abilities, especially in mathematics and languages. It doesn’t see numbers like we do, but as shapes, movements, textures and colors, each different so it can recognize up to 10,000 different numbers.
It can divide 13 by 97 and give you the answer to over 100 decimals, instantly. He set a British and European record for reciting the mathematical Pi from memory to 22,514 decimal places, taking over five hours. He learned an entire language (Icelandic) in one week, spoken and written. He speaks English, Lithuanian, French, Romanian, Spanish, German, Icelandic, Esperanto and Welsh – with other languages on the way.
This book is his autobiography; fortunately, he is one of the few Scholars who can communicate what is going on in his mind. He also learned to live independently, unlike many other Savants. His condition was made famous by Dustin Hoffman in the movie Rain Man. In this book, he details his life growing up and all the problems he encountered. There is no shortage of problems, because despite his brilliant mind, he has always had enormous difficulties in everyday life.
As a child, he was not interested in playing with other children, nor felt the need to talk with them, he preferred to count beads or drops of water. Worse still, when he spoke, he couldn’t communicate at the same level. He didn’t know what to talk about, when to start talking or when to stop talking, and what the other children were hearing from their conversation. He stared at the ground while talking and talked endlessly about a topic that the other person was not interested in.
When a teacher looked at him and said: 6 times 9, he didn’t understand that he was supposed to give the answer. He wouldn’t say anything. If asked, “How much is six times nine?” Then he answered. The conversation had to be precise and literal before he could understand. The hints, the facial expressions, meant nothing to him. He was the last child in his class to learn the alphabet, and it took a lot of practice to learn how to tie his shoelaces at age eight.
School was difficult. Other kids teased and bullied him, but since he was largely indifferent to the other kids, he didn’t cry or get upset. Nevertheless, he knew he was different and everyone else too. He had a number of obsessions, the first was to count things, for example memorizing all the license plates of the teachers’ cars. Another obsession was that things had to follow the same pattern every day. At the age of three, he would throw tantrums if his father took him to the shops in a different way. Everything had to be in a specific order.
He was obsessed with numbers, math, all kinds of calculations, and especially loved prime numbers. His mental powers in mathematics were beyond any advanced child. At school, he couldn’t understand why 6 was written in the same size as 8, and why 9 wasn’t printed in blue, because that’s how he saw them in his head. When he wrote numbers, the teachers criticized his work, telling him to write all the numbers the same size. He was puzzled why they were telling him to do something that was obviously wrong. Unfortunately, he had trouble with algebra because he couldn’t grasp letters the way he understood numbers.
At school, he stayed away from other children and all outdoor activities. He read many books, but they didn’t help him because he began to realize that he was born on the wrong planet, never comfortable, never safe, always fearful, without friends or companions. He would sit in his room and watch his siblings play games and talk, and wonder why they were talking about trivial things, since he didn’t understand the purpose of the conversation.
Physically, he had poor balance, an awkward gait, and mostly stared at the ground as he walked, fearful of loud noises or sudden sounds. He didn’t like children’s games because they were loud, physical and confusing.
His parents were wonderful! They put up with all his strangeness, which other parents and children could not understand, because no one would ever have met another person like Daniel Tammet. Doctors were none the wiser, they had vague theories about his condition, but it wasn’t until he was 25 that he was diagnosed with Savant syndrome, a rare form of the syndrome. of Asperger.
Like many other people with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS), he had great difficulty communicating, both verbally and with body language. AS people don’t understand what it means if someone gets up and says, “It’s getting late” and looks at their watch. An AS person would think something like, “What’s late? “Why is it late? Late for what? The delay is relative to the present time. Why are they talking about the weather? Is the hour getting late? How can time get late? Puzzled by it all, they wouldn’t say anything, wouldn’t understand what was going on. Of course, this often seemed rude to others.
He was easily distracted and when listening to someone he was often confused because his mind could not focus so he could not hear all the words spoken but only certain words and if the missing word was important, so he wouldn’t understand. Using double negatives was a big problem for him, it hurt his head and confused him because he could only understand things literally. Even as an adult, he couldn’t understand the phrase “John isn’t tall, he’s a giant”. You had to explain it carefully.
Basically, he could only do one task at a time. If there was a lot of activity and noise around him, he became confused and stressed. It was difficult for him to function in these situations. Like other AS people, he had trouble finding his way around the streets, easily getting lost.
He was exceptionally good at playing chess, but in competitions he had trouble concentrating for up to two hours. If the other person stood up, or walked, or someone coughed or laughed, they would lose focus and play weak movements. He had to give up chess because of these problems.
A television documentary was made about Daniel Tammet, called Brain Man; they took him to America where he met the real Rain Man (Kim Peek). For the first time in his life, Daniel met someone who could completely understand him.
Due to his superhuman abilities with numbers and languages, scientists around the world want to examine and test him to find out how his mind works. They were particularly amazed to discover that when reciting the 22,000 numbers of Pi (without error) he saw not numbers, but a line, a shape like a graph, each number was a point on the graph with its own color, texture, feeling. For the rest of us, it’s incomprehensible.
The good news is that Daniel overcame many of his issues by deliberately learning to consciously copy normal behavior. He learned how to look at a person’s eyes while talking, where to stand, how to take turns talking, and what to talk about. He has traveled and worked with scientists to find out what is going on in his mind.