Super-Freaks or super-heroes ? (1L-ES3-S2 euro)

In our English classes we worked on a project entitled “ Super-freaks or super-heroes ? ”. In this project we worked on Asperger syndrome and synesthesia and on people who suffer from these illnesses. First we worked on Kim Peek who suffers from Asperger syndrome. Asperger syndrome is a form of autism, people who suffer from it seem to have a need for routine and to have difficulties to interact with other human beings ; they are called savants. Kim Peek inspired the character of Rain Man in the movie entitled the same. Kim Peek has got an extraordinary memory and can read a book by reading the left page with his left eye and the right page with his right eye.

Kim Peek

Then we worked on Daniel Tammet’s case. Daniel Tammet suffers from synesthesia, a rare condition where the senses are mixed up and work together instead of separately, so for example a synesthete might see what he hears or taste what he sees. Daniel Tammet has a really good memory for numbers because to him they are three dimensional colored shapes, he is also, and that’s even more rare, a language savant, he can speak eight languages including Icelandic that he learnt in one week, his teacher compared him to a vacuum cleaner.

Daniel Tammet

At the end of the project we went to the theater to see The Valley of Astonishment directed by Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne which tells the story of people who suffer from synesthesia and one in particular, Sammy Costas : to remember things or words Sammy places them in streets and then she just has to mentally walk down this street remember everything, for numbers she writes them on a mental blackboard and she erases it when she doesn’t need the numbers anymore. Another of the synesthetes in the play sees and paints what he hears, and another one who is paralyzed can direct his body with his eyes. Since they think differently they also behave differently, and that’s why they are sometimes taken for freaks when they are geniuses.
I found this project very interesting because we talked about people who are humans like us but have got another way of seeing the world we live in and I think that it is really interesting from a scientific point of view but also from a cultural perspective. We learnt a lot of things, like the fact that people with mixed senses exist and I found that amazing. I didn’t, not for a second think that synesthetes were strange people and once you understand savants they aren’t that strange, even though at first you can take them for freaks, in fact they just understand the world differently and behave consequently.

Lucille Eggers

Super-Freaks or Super-Heroes ?

Through this amazing project, we learnt a lot about the rare conditions of Asperger syndrome and Synesthesia. It gave us the possibility to imagine what is going on in your mind when you develop this illness and to realize all the research that neuroscientists are doing to try to find out what makes the human brain unique. We’ve understood that there are many symptoms of this condition which is a form of autism. For example, Kim Peek is known to have one of the weirdest brain in the world and he is compared with a living Google because of his amazing memory. He was diagnosed mentally-retarded at birth but with the unflagging support of his father, he managed to develop his mental abilities and now people are flabbergasted when they see him because he is a mixture of disability and brilliance, he is such of a savant. Neuroscientists have noticed that the majority of those people have an obsessive need for order. Indeed, in the case of Daniel Tammet who is considered a savant too, even if he also has a routine, in his form of autism, he doesn’t seem to be special. At first sight, we don’t imagine that when he was a kid, he was teased and bullied by other kids because of his special gestures and that for him making jokes and socializing were difficult. Through those persons, we can learn that the brain is able to associate numbers with shapes and colors to create a landscape. People who have that syndrome might be considered freaks whereas in reality, they are just incredible humans that deserve to be regarded as super heroes because they are an opportunity for neuroscientists to understand how the brain really works with all of its secrets. To me, the project was very interesting and it allowed me to discover that because of a condition, some people are able to become “super-heroes” by developing a special ability in their brains that makes it unique. I wonder how it works, how you see the world and all of those things when you have one of the most complex brains in the world. To my mind, it remains a sort of enigma. To conclude, “Super-Freaks or Super-Heroes ?” is a project that the students found really interesting and that is worth exploring.
Charlotte DINIZ

Super-freaks or Super-heroes ?

In this project which consisted in learning more about brain diseases I discovered an extraordinary disease called Synesthesia giving special abilities to people affected by it. I will tell you more about it my article.
Synesthesia is a rare form of autism affecting the human brain and giving it extraordinary abilities. Kim Peek and Daniel Tammet are both affected by synesthesia : they are autistic savants.
Daniel Tammet, born in 1979 was bullied at school because of his strange attitude : he used to move in circle and flap hands, until he started using his abilities and transforming his disease into a strength. He is now able to learn more than 22,000 digits of π at once : he reads all the digits once and he’s able to tell all of them, speaking for hours. But how does his mind work ? He just sees numbers in a tridimensional form of different colors and each number is different. To memorize numbers he just has to memorize a beautiful landscape made of different forms. Moreover he is gifted at speaking languages : he can speak up to 8 languages and he learned Icelandic in only one week !
Kim Peek is older than Daniel Tammet but he’s also incredible. He has the ability to learn everything he reads. Furthermore he reads two pages at the same time and a page that we read in 3 or 4 minutes he reads it in 8 or 9 seconds ! Using his brain made him finish high school at the age of 14. If you asked him he would be able to tell all the countries in the world, their main cities, all the US presidents, their lives and their families. Kim Peek once said : “you can’t even imagine all the things I have in my head”.
But there are also negative points about synesthesia. For example Daniel Tammet can’t drive a car as there would be too much information for his brain and it would be dangerous.
If you are interested in this subject you can check on YouTube, you’ll find a lot of information on this disease. So what do you think of it, synesthesia : a blessing or a curse ? I personally think that on the one hand this disease is awesome because you have extraordinary mental abilities but on the other it is very difficult to live with, you can’t make friends easily for example.
Eloi Desrousseaux


“Super-freaks or super-heroes” is a project that I worked on with my classmates. This project consisted in learning more about people who have an extraordinary brain. We studied the life of Kim Peek and Daniel Tammet who both suffer from Asperger Syndrome.
Kim Peek is a man who suffers from Asperger Syndrome. He is a savant, he is a genius, and he can read a book faster than ordinary people. However, he has some difficulties to create relationships with others. He is obsessed with routine and order. His life inspired the movie Rain Man.
We also studied the life of Daniel Tammet, a British guy who also suffers from Asperger Syndrome. He can memorize things faster than ordinary people ; he memorized the 22,000 digits of π. He sees numbers as shapes, which permits him to calculate faster than others. Moreover, he has the ability to learn a lot of languages with his extraordinary brain. Indeed, his brain is like a vacuum cleaner, it sucks up words and sticks them into the brain. Scientists worked on his case and they discovered that all parts of his brain are connected, which permits him to do extraordinary intellectual tasks. When he was young, he was bullied by his classmates. Things were very difficult for him. Making friends and making jokes were almost impossible for him. Throughout years, he changed his state of mind ; he discovered that he had something special and that he had to use it to change the world. Moreover, he improved his relationships with others, now he is able to make friends and to make jokes.
With this project, I learnt a lot about people who have extraordinary brains such as Kim Peek and Daniel Tammet. By reading the analyses of scientists, I figured out what was making them so special. I understood more about their condition and why they were sometimes acting weirdly. With this project, I discovered a lot of handicaps that I didn’t know such as Asperger Syndrome but also synesthesia. This project was amazing. To conclude, being a super-hero is not just about having muscular power, but also about having intellectual abilities which can make a difference.