Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Touching hearts . . . and minds

I had the pleasure of meeting Kim and Fran Peek
when they came to the Monarch School to meet and have lunch with staff.

This is Kim on the left. He's 57 years old and lives in Utah with his father, Fran. Pretty unremarkable, so far, right? Well, yes until you discover that Kim Peek is the original Rain Main played by Dustin Hoffman in the 1980s film by the same name.
And unbelievable when you meet him and witness his prodigious memory and near-total recall.

Kim is known as a 'mega savant'. Name a city or town; he'll name its highway system, t.v. and radio stations, rivers and waterways, nearby towns and history.

Kim can read a page of text in 8 seconds with 98% recall. We would need 7 or 8 minutes to read the same amount of text and achieve a maximum of 40% recall.

Pat: "Kim, my birthday is April 7, 1944".
Kim: "That was Good Friday. This year it was Monday.

Kim can and does respond to any and all dates tossed at him; he tosses back the day of the week and sometimes related and interesting facts and sometimes adds the day of the week the birthday fell on this year or will next year.

Kim was born without a corpus collosum -- the fibers in the brain that allow the right hemisphere to talk to the left hemisphere. As an infant, his parents were advised to institutionalize and forget about him. As a child, he was called mentally retarded and refused admission to public school.

Instead the school sent tutors twice a week to their home. Fran tells a typical story that seems an omen of the kind of surprises they would encounter in the days, weeks, months and years ahead. It was about a homework assignment given to Kim to "complete 3 pages in a math workbook for the next class". Kim finished the entire workbook doing it from back to front because, "it got easier as I went along".
There probably isn't another human being with such a mind. Most known savants have one area of speciality; Kim has 5. He has been studied by the Wisconsin Medical Society and hired by NASA who wants to learn more about how his brain functions. He has been the subject of innumerable documentaries and scholarly articles. He and Fran have traveled 'millions' of miles and spoken to 'millions' of people in their quest to help people understand the nature of autism, of savant syndrome, of disability/ability, and of the similarities between us all.

But for all of Kim's magnificent mental capacity, he is unable to perform most ordinary daily living tasks (such as dressing, shaving and combing his hair); these functions are carried out by Fran.

Kim and Fran are very close. Fran redirects Kim, or steadies him when he paces or his thoughts seem to meander ........... but ..... I suspect WE think they are meandering; KIM knows otherwise.

Fran is Kim's interpreter and de-coder.

PS: the photos I used are from the Wisconsin Medical Society's website where the best information about savant syndrome can be found and where other known savants are profiled.

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