“I was born on 31 January 1979 – a Wednesday. I know it was a Wednesday, because the date is blue in my mind and Wednesdays are always blue, like the number nine or the sound of loud voices arguing…”
– Daniel Tammet, Born on a Blue Day
Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet is undeniably the most fascinating autobiography I have ever read. Tammet has Savant Syndrome, which is one of the cognitive phenomena in psychology. The term refers to individuals who have extraordinary skills not usually displayed by the general population. These skills are commonly in the form of mathematical calculations, memory feats and artistic and musical abilities. Tammet is gifted with the ability to calculate numbers, at times greater than a calculator or computer can. He is able to divide 13 by 97 and recite the numbers to 100 decimal places. The calculator I have in my hand goes to 9 decimals – incredible!
Tammet was diagnosed with high functioning Asperger’s Disorder as a child and he speaks with such candour and honesty about the struggles he experienced. His abilities – misunderstood at the time – meant that he was often alienated socially as he struggled to understand the behaviours and actions of others, and likewise for his peers regarding him. Tammet’s ability to understand himself is both remarkable and inspiring. He notes that the abilities that isolated him from his peers as a child and teen are the very same that now allow him to connect to others as an adult. They way he is able to break down his own behaviour and understand what makes him feel a certain way, and work out methods of overcoming them is really quite rare. So is his ability to explain exactly how his savant skills work. Such first person accounts are almost non-existent.
Born on a Blue Day is an exploration of both Tammet’s mind and his world; they are equally as fascinating. For example, he was challenged to learn Icelandic to a conversational level in a week. At the end of the week, he was to appear on an Icelandic morning show and converse with the hosts. This task was a challenge on many levels; not only did Tammet have to learn what is arguably the hardest language in the world, but he also had to navigate his own issues around travel, being in a foreign place and maintaining an acceptable social level with the hosts and his minders. He managed to succeed on all levels and proved to himself that he has the ability to do what he puts his mind to. It is one of many messages in this book that the reader can take away with them. Tammet also learns the importance of family, friends and love. At the end of the day, Tammet says it can take a long time to work out who you are, and that’s ok!
Brain Man Documentary https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kf3-el-dJAw
Understanding Savants: http://www.autism.com/understanding_savants