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“Super Freaks or Super-Heroes” ( 1ES1- S3- S4)

jeudi 2 février 2017

Learn more about autism during the English class

The project we did in the English class is entitled “Super Freaks or Super-Heroes”. In this project, we worked on different savants who suffer from the Asperger Syndrome which is a form of autism, and the aim was to determine if their condition was a curse or a blessing.
First, we saw extracts of the Oscar- winning film Rain Man where the character of Raymond is a savant. We can say that this disease is a blessing because this character is able to calculate very quickly and on top of that he has got an incredible memory. On the contrary, his condition is also a curse because in these extracts we saw that he had an obsessive need for order and routine and that he was fidgety and nervous.
Then, we discovered Kim Peek, a savant who was an inspiration for Rain Man. Indeed, Kim Peek also has an impressive memory because he remembers the day of any date you want. Actually he remembers everything he has ever read, that’s why he knows so many things ! I was flabbergasted to see this kind of outstanding abilities that I didn’t know before.
After that, we learnt more about the brain of those savants by studying the life of Daniel Tammet, another autistic man. Up to that point, we saw savants with a very characteristic behaviour and difficulties to speak, like Kim Peek, whereas Daniel Tammet looks like a normal person. Actually, he made many efforts to socialize and to learn to make friends because in his youth he was bullied and people used to tease him. Today, people flock to see him and listen to him because he has overcome his condition so that he can explain and speak about himself. He turns his curse into a blessing and he tries to take advantage of his disease. In the video we saw, Daniel Tammet explains that he suffers from synaesthesia which is an unusual functioning of the brain consisting in the vision of numbers and alphabetical letters as colors, shapes, textures and motions. In fact, the different parts of his brain are linked and can work together. That’s why savants have a huge memory and abilities to calculate easily.
Moreover, we went to theatre to attend a play by Peter Brook, The Valley of Astonishment, which gave us more details about synaesthesia through the life of Sammy Costas, another savant.
To finish, I really liked this sequence about savants because it permitted me to learn more about this condition and the way this kind of person sees the world.

Clément SCHOTT
1ère S3

Are those people “Super-Freaks” or “Super-Heroes” ?

This year, in English class, we had a project entitled “Super-Freaks or Super-Heroes ?”. The goal of this project was to raise awareness about people who suffer from autism. Therefore we studied some people with incredible brains and who suffer from autism. They are called savants.
We first learnt about Kim Peek. He was diagnosed mentally retarded at the age of nine months but thanks to the support of his father and by reading encyclopaedias, he became a living Google. He is really in love with knowledge : he is able to say the day of the week of any date. He also learnt every single city and highway of the United States, the presidents and their families. He became an inspiration for Raymond’s character in the movie Rain Man.
After being astonished by this man we discovered another : Daniel Tammet. From the outside he looks like a normal man but he suffers from synaesthesia. His condition permitted him to learn the first twenty two thousand digits of π and he learnt the Icelandic language in only a week, seven days… this is unbelievable. He wrote two books, an autobiography and another about how the human brain works.
We finally learnt about Christopher Taylor, another savant who knows more than twenty different languages He has an astonishing memory for languages, which is rare among savants. But unfortunately he is not able to find his way to the pub in the city he is living in.
In this project, we learnt about savants with their memories that is a blessing but also a curse. Actually, people like Kim Peek are not able to forget, as Peter Brook shows in the Valley of Astonishment with Sammy who is a savant. Daniel Tammet who sees colours for words is not able to drive a car and Christopher has no place memory.
This project was very interesting as we studied people with a brain that does not work like ours. I really think I will not ever see these people as “Super-Freaks” but as “Super-Heroes”… even if they are not able to understand any single joke.
Lebon Nathalie 1ère S4

Super-Heroes or Super-Freaks ?

This year, in English class, we did a project entitled « Super-Freaks or Super-heroes », which dealt with synesthesia and with the savant syndrome : to work on that, we saw interviews of autistic savants, extracts from Rainman and even a theatre play by Peter Brook called The Valley of Astonishment.
First, we studied the character of Rainman, who was played by Dustin Hoffman. Actually, he was an autistic savant ; therefore he had an outstanding mind. For example, in a restaurant, he gave the telephone number of a waitress just after having seen her name, as he had learnt the phone book up to half the letter G the day before. He even found the exact number of toothpicks on the floor in a few seconds, which was very impressive since there were hundreds of them. However, he had an obsessive need for routine and order, which was shown when his brother Charlie and he ordered pancakes. In fact, they had not even ordered but he didn’t stop saying that he wanted toothpicks and maple syrup before the pancakes arrived.
Then, we talked about Kim Peek. He is an autistic savant too and he is said to be “in love with knowledge”. If you give him a date, for example, he can tell you which day of the week it was. He even knows all the towns of the United States ! Neuroscientists are very interested in him and they say that they could possibly determine how the brain works thanks to him. At one point, he met Barry Morrow, who was flabbergasted that such a human-being existed, that’s why he inspired the character of Rainman. Then he met Dustin Hoffman who was researching the role.
Next, we saw a documentary about Daniel Tammet, the man who succeeded in reciting the twenty-two thousand first digits of π after having looked at it only once ! Well, that is because he suffers from the savant syndrome and from synesthesia : he sees each number as a three dimensional object and when he calculates something, the answer just comes naturally to him. He also knows eight languages and learnt the Icelandic one in only one week. But more than that, he has overcome the limitations of autism : he trained himself to have friends, to tell jokes and he is able to talk about his own mind, so he wrote his autobiography, which became a best-seller.
Finally, most of the class went to the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord to see The Valley of Astonishment, in which Peter Brook deals with synesthesia through the character of Sammy Costas. For her, it is both a blessing and a curse since it gives her an incredible memory, but she was fired because of it and she can’t forget anything. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see the play.
I thought that what we learnt during this project was interesting, and especially about Daniel Tammet, that I found really impressive in the way he talks about his own mind.

Tristan Delbende, 1ère S3

Savants and synesthesia

In this article, we are going to speak about the project entitled « Super-Freaks or Super-Heroes ? » that we did in class.
This project was very interesting because it is about people who are savants, it means that they suffer from the Asperger Syndrome. Sometimes, they also suffer from synesthesia which means that different parts of their brain are linked, so that they can see numbers as shapes for example.
We learnt more about two savants called Kim Peek and Daniel Tammet. Kim Peek is the most famous savant in the world as he was the one who inspired Barry Morrow for the movie Rain Man. This director was flabbergasted when he met Kim Peek for the first time and he wanted to create a character from this savant, the role was played by Dustin Hoffman and the movie received an Oscar. But what makes Kim Peek an incredible person is the fact that he has a memory without equal. Indeed, he remembers everything he reads, this is why he can tell you the history of all the American presidents and their families but also the history of a lot of countries of the world and stories from the Bible. To learn so many things, he reads one page in ten seconds with the left eye and the other page with the right eye, which is incredible. But as a lot of savants, he had a lot of difficulties to socialize.
Daniel Tammet managed to overcome these difficulties. When he was a kid, he was bullied by others at school because he was different and had crippling limitations. But he learnt to make jokes and to have friends and now he just looks like any other man of his age, even if he has a super-human gift which is to calculate very fast and to have an incredible memory. With this memory, he was able to learn the 22,000 first digits of π after looking at the number once and to learn nine languages such as Icelandic which he learnt in one week although it is supposed to be one of the most difficult languages in the world.
To conclude, we can say that it was a very interesting project as it permitted to learn much more about savants. During this project, we also saw the play The Valley of the Astonishment which gave us a visual interpretation of what we learnt in class.

Paul Heintzé


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