Gifts and Misperceptions.

There has been some discussion in the autism community over a new television series that recently made a debut on Fox. The program is called Touch and is about an 11 year old “mute” boy with an unnamed disability, the features of which correlate with autism to some degree. Kiefer Sutherland, the star of the show, made some remarks, in an interview, about the show’s child being autistic. It appears that the show was, most likely, conceived with autism as the diagnostic base, but later revamped and autistic references removed.

This show has made some people mad for different reasons. Some believe it is wrong to allow a television show to create misperceptions about the vast majority of the autistic population. Some people are angry because autistic people were not consulted in creating/writing/producing the show. Some people just want a show with the other 90 percent of autism highlighted as it “really” is.

What’s wrong with showcasing special talent? Ten percent of the autistic population is said to fall into the category of “autistic savant”. * In fact, the actual percent of persons with Savant Syndrome turns out to be approximately half autistic and half other developmental disabilities.

Personally, I’m not interested in the controversy. I like Kiefer Sutherland as an actor. I was a big fan of “24”. I watched the premiere of Touch and enjoyed the show. But it was just a TV show, a 60 minute escape from reality for a story. That’s all I saw there.

Yes, I understand that a lot of people watching could get the idea that all autistics are savants. So what? I can think of a lot of worse things they could think about my kid. If someone wants to think my son has a “gift”, let them. I happen to think he has a lot of gifts. He’s been able to read and spell since he just barely turned two years old. He has great memorization skills and has memorized lots of factual information. Another little boy with autism who participated in my son’s social skills class was taken out of his regular classroom to participate in a higher grade’s math class because he was too advanced for the other children his age.

My son is a happy kid most of the time. He’s kind and smiling and beautiful. And if a stranger asks me about his gifts, I simply correct them about what autism is and what it means. Simple enough. I think the world is big enough that my autistic son and the television show Touch can co-exist without any strife.

What the show did lead me to discover is the segment of the autism population that does possess these savant skills. And I learned that often, those skills are the result of left-sided brain injury that happens prenatally or within very early infancy and childhood. This was of particular interest to me since my son suffers from mild absence seizures during sleep, the injury being to the left side of his brain.

And just to share, I learned about some fascinating people in the world of autistic savants. People who have been featured on – guess what? Television. What I’ve noticed is that television, generally shows us the unusual, the different, the improbable. Because we live the other stuff every day.

I thought I’d share some of that rare and interesting with you too.

Artist Savant:

My favorite is Stephen Wiltshire, an autistic who did not speak his first word until he was five years old. Stephen is an artist who can draw a panorama of a City after taking a helicopter ride for 45 minutes solely from his memory with astonishing accuracy. He’s drawn lots of cities including Tokyo, New York City, London and, in this clip (AND TURN UP THE VOLUME – it’s really low) Rome:

You can also learn more about Stephen by watching (or subscribing to) his YouTube channel here.


Quite a while back, I wrote a post in which I talked about autistic musicians. I did not mention this savant.

I should have.

Derek Paravicini was featured on 60 minutes. He can hear a piece of music once and can not only play it back and retain it forever, he can transform it’s musical style to any style requested. Incredible!

Here is a 12 year old boy, Nathan, who has similar musical talent:

Gifts with Numbers – “Calendar Savants”

George Widener was diagnosed late in his 20s with Asperger’s Syndrome. He was labeled “anti-social” in school. Eventually, he ended up on the street, living in shelters. He met Kim Peek, the man upon whom the “Rain Man” character Dustin Hoffman played was based, and it changed his life, especially when he found he was able to calculate a day of the week faster than Kim (known as the “mega” savant for the 17 areas in which he was a genius).

George also has savant qualities in art and history and brings these three areas together in detailed and unusual drawings. Eventually, his artwork was shown in galleries, including in his own one man show. His story is fascinatingly documented on this episode of “Ingenious Minds”.

There is beauty in these gifts. These are stories of real people. People with autism. So, there are shows out there that do talk to autistics. These are their lives. They do have “special powers”. Should we ignore them because we want more shows with everyday autism portrayed? I don’t think so. Every time the word autism is mentioned mainstream, may just a handful of people will Google it, or Wikipedia it or learn. But that’s a handful that didn’t know yesterday.


About solodialogue

I'm a lawyer and the mom of a 6 year old boy with autism. I work part time and spend the rest driving here and there and everywhere for my son's various therapies. Instead of trying cases, I now play Pac-man and watch SpongeBob. I wear old sweaters and jeans and always, always flat shoes to run after my son. Yeah, it's different but I wouldn't change it for anything. The love of my child is the most powerful, beautiful and rewarding aspect of my life.
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6 Responses to Gifts and Misperceptions.

  1. Julie says:

    It’s funny, when I heard about this show my first thought was… ah, they are going with the “Indigo” child angle – never thought about the savant. I’m looking forward to the show as well.

  2. I recorded the show, but with everything that has been going on lately, I have not had the chance to watch it. Glad to know that it was a good story. I could use a good story! 🙂

  3. Karen, I have had watching the show on my to-do list, but haven’t watched yet. I DO agree with your approach to shows that raise controversy. No matter how a show may or may not accurately project something, at the end of the day it is still JUST TV. “Parenthood” gets a lot of flack, and I LOVE the show for what it is- a show. 🙂

  4. Broot says:

    Hunh. I thought Touch was a movie, not a TV show. I’m sure it will show up here in NZ eventually.

  5. eof737 says:

    OMG! I was about to add the link to the article on Stephen when I saw you were already aware of him. It’s a shame that the show didn’t use the opportunity to showcase autism and highlight all of its many facets… TY for elaborating.

  6. Tessa says:

    My husband and I watched the show, and we enjoyed it. There were some things we could relate to and some that we couldn’t. I think the show did a good job of highlighting how difficult parenting a special needs child can be. At the end of the day, I agree with you. It’s just a show.

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