Saturday, May 27, 2006

People with developmental disabilities can't change - or can they ?

"It belies the myth that people with developmental disabilities can't change"

This is a quote from a documentary on Kim Peek, the individual on whom the title character, Rain Man, was based. Kim is, of course, an autistic savant with extraordinary memory abilities, to the extent that he remembers nearly every fact he is exposed to. And Kim's abilities are so impressive that there may only be about 50 people on the planet whose cognitive talents approach his.

Interesting facts about Kim:

1. Until his early thirties, he was classified as mentally retarded.

2. He has agenesis of the corpus callosum, meaning that the thick bundle of nerve tissue that connects the two hemispheres of the brain in most people does not exist in Kim's brain.

3. Kim has a very limited ability to understand metaphors. So, if you were to say to him, "Get a grip on yourself", he would take the statement literally and begin to grab himself.

4. Give Kim any date in history and he can instantly tell you on which day of the week the date occurred.

5. Unlike most savants who seem to specialize in one area (such as an extraordinary ability to replicate music or draw), Kim seems to soak up data...about nearly anything and everything.

The documentary on Kim (on science channel) was fascinating. But I have to admit, after watching the incredible talents of a savant being demonstrated, I was surprised to hear him described as developmentally disabled. Of course, he certainly is. At 52, he must rely on his father to help him with basic activities of daily living, such as brushing his teeth. But, it just shows that the term developmental disabilities includes a bit more than we commonly conceptualize.

The quote, by the way, is a reference to the fact that, though Kim is now fairly social, at the time Rain Man was being produced he had difficulty even looking another person in the eye. Now, he addresses people in numbers great enough to fill lecture halls.

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