By Peter Szatmari MD
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Extra resources for A Mind Apart: Understanding Children with Autism and Asperger Syndrome
She seemed to be showing them something precious. Perhaps it was some Pokemon figurines that Heather collected. She carried them to school every day in her backpack, and perhaps now she was showing off the newest addition to her collection. Her friends were clearly very impressed, and I imagined that appreciative sounds were made about this character’s color or that figure’s shape. Heather was clearly proud to be the center of attention and eager to show off to her classmates. The bell rang, and she joined her friends as they lined up to go inside.
But in a more general sense, it’s the pleasure that the intricacy of detail brings to people with ASD that is so extraordinary. Children with ASD tend to love sounds, even more than typical children enjoy music. It is pure acoustic sensation, the rhythm and pitch that attracts and holds their attention. The words are of little interest, and the emotions conveyed in the lyrics are quite irrelevant. Asking the child with autism the meaning of a song will evoke little response over and above a repetition of the lyrics.
Stephen Wiltshire is a person with autism in England who makes beautiful drawings of buildings, streetscapes, and cars. He has published several books, has sold many drawings, and more recently has attended art school, where his talent continues to develop even though on conventional measures of intelligence and language he is quite delayed. But he is able to use his attention to visual detail as a means of recapturing moments of perception as they happen in everyday life. Hikari Oe is the son of Kenzaburo Oe, who won the Nobel prize for literature in 1994.