Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Alex not only likes letters, words, and numbers, but he is blessed with an uncanny ability to store them in his mind. Every afternoon when he and I watch the game show Jeopardy together, I am treated to a glimpse of how gifted his memory is, as he reveals how much he has learned in a variety of subjects. I am often amazed that he knows things I would not expect him to know, including pop culture. Moreover, I have accumulated a gold mine of useless information in my memory over the years, and yet he knows things I don’t, such as remembering all of the U.S. Presidents in the order they served. When I ask him how he knows certain trivia, he can tell me specifically where he learned the detail by citing the title of a reference book or the website where he read it. Sometimes he can even inform me of the year when he learned the fact. He explains to me that he can see it in his mind.

Since he much prefers reading nonfiction to fiction, Alex has learned a great deal from reading textbooks, almanacs, encyclopedias, and dictionaries for fun. From the time he was little, he has usually taken at least one book to bed with him, holding it the way most children cuddle beloved stuffed animals. We can easily identify his best-loved books: from sleeping with them, the pages are often bent or curled. At times I almost wonder if he has learned things by osmosis as he slept. All of this reading, coupled with his excellent memory, made him a careful proofreader who catches mistakes in books that editors have missed. In addition, he possesses outstanding spelling skills because he can see in his mind the way words should be spelled. This ability to remember the order of letters has also enabled him to develop proficient keyboarding skills because he knows exactly where all the letters are on the computer keyboard and never needs to look at them as he types.

Along with all the reading he has done, Alex’s love of math has inspired him to study numerical concepts and patterns and then to commit them to memory. He has a fascination for prime numbers and has memorized the first 350 primes. Similarly, he has enthusiastically researched the concept of pi and then committed the first 1433 digits [“exactly, not approximately,” according to Alex] to memory, spouting them off the way most teenagers would repeat lyrics to their favorite songs. He greatly admires those people whose names he has found on the Internet who have memorized more pi digits than he has. Aside from these more academic studies, Alex also uses his ability to store numbers for more practical purposes. Using a phone book and the Internet, he has memorized area codes and zip codes for the U.S. and can usually accurately identify the state when given the code number. We put this to the test when unknown numbers come up on our caller ID and when mailing letters and bills at the post office. Even more helpful is that he remembers everyone’s age and birthday in our family, saving me from having to look up that information in my birthday calendar book. Somehow, I like to think that Alex’s gift for storing and retrieving numbers and patterns is a combination of Ed’s mathematical strengths and my organizational skills. Alex has taken that blend and made it his own, enjoying watching the numbers as they go by in his mind.

“I remember the days of old. I ponder all your great works and think about what you have done.” Psalm 143:5


Kaye said...

I find your blog entries extremely interesting. Alex has an amazing mind and you and Ed have done a wonderful job of helping him develop his unique talents. He is lucky to have such fantastic parents to help him understand the things that could be difficult or frustrating for him. I look forward to your next post!

Mom said...


Perhaps you could lease Alex as a "phone-a-friend" on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?". Because he has info on so many different subjects, he'd be a fantastic help. So many autistic kids seem to have a limited number of interests, but, while he has a preference for numbers, he has such diverse interests and is actually very well-rounded. Thanks for another very interesting, well-written entry.

Pam Byrne said...

Thanks, Kaye and Mom! I really appreciate your nice comments. :)