Tuesday, December 13, 2011

His Son's Amazing Memory Helps Him Connect with Others

Column by Tom Fields-Meyer, a Los Angeles author and journalist. This essay is adapted from his new memoir, “Following Ezra: What One Father Learned About Gumby, Otters, Autism, and Love From His Extraordinary Son” (New American Library).

My son Ezra was 4 or 5 when he began asking people their birthdays. At first it seemed like a typical child’s question. But then months later he would encounter acquaintances — or even whole families — and reel off the birth months with perfect recall as he pointed at each person.
“Steve, April. Janice, November. Shayna, August.”
Driving him to school one morning, I heard him in the back seat reciting what at first sounded like random dates and names. Then I realized what he was doing: listing the months in calendar order, each followed by the names of everyone he had encountered whose birthday fell in that month.
It was an early glimpse of what I came to realize was an extraordinary — even superhuman — memory. Ezra, now 15, has high-functioning autism. Experts will tell you that the disorder’s most significant characteristic is difficulty communicating and forming relationships. Ezra knows he has autism, but to him one of its primary characteristics is that he can remember things better than most people.

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