Friday, December 20, 2019

My Autistic Son: A Response to Thomas Sowell's Book 'The Einstein Syndrome'

A Target Liberty reader writes:

When I read Tom Sowell's book, The Einstein Syndrome, I was looking for an explanation that explained why my child had significant (or severe by the doctors) development delay.  What I found was a great book that only applies to a very small segment of the population.  Tom is lucky to have such a child.  I just located my copy on the bookshelf and pulled it out.  The subtitle is "Bright Children Who Talk Late." Unfortunately, this isn't my child.  I believe this book does not apply to the vast majority of children who went through developmental delays.  I am sorry (perhaps a tad bit cynically, but seriously only a tad) that Tom went through this struggle only to find out that his child was gifted beyond belief.  And I am sincerely happy that it turned out that way for him, and that his child has an obviously extremely bright future.

When I read the book, I wanted so badly to agree with his diagnosis of his child and apply it to mine and then say to my wife, "See, I told you!"  That is really why I read it. She was worried, I was "sure" he was fine.  "He must just be gifted.  After all, Einstein didn't talk till he was four."  So I went into the book with a foregone conclusion. But I'm not stupid enough to ignore evidence to the contrary.  When I read the book, it was clear it just didn't apply to our son.  He didn't comprehend our speech.  He wasn't ignoring us. He simply did not understand.  Fortunately for Tom, his son did.  The book was one of my major indicators early one that I had better get serious about this quick.  Early intervention is very important for actual autism.

We are teaching our son comprehension, which is so vital to social interaction it's mind blowing.  The last few years I've watched other children come up to our son and ask him a question: a simple one such as- "What's your name", "what are you doing," or even a small greeting like, "hello".   He wasn't just ignoring them.  He was making eye contact, but he didn't understand.  So he would either keep doing what he was doing like a deaf person would do or he would jump up and down and get excited, but not know how to interact properly.  The confusion on the other kid's faces is something I'll never forget. Language wouldn't come, but before language, understanding has to come!  He could see they were interacting in some way, but had no idea what it was about.

The unique thing about our son, according to our therapist, is that he wants so badly to learn and enjoys showing off new skills.  His comprehension and thus his speech are getting better, but comprehension has to be taught very severely.  It is working.  He isn't Rain Man, which was a savant with severe autism.  He has mild-moderate autism.  Perhaps Tom's child was a savant with even milder autism.  Or maybe he was just a really, really smart normal kid who didn't see the need to talk, because he was so damn smart he didn't see anything worthy of responding to.  And as long as he came to dinner when they asked him to, and stuff like that, then he was functional (Sowell doesn't mention daily life comprehension in the book that I can remember, so it is kind of frustrating because I don't actually know the symptoms of his son except that he was a late talker.  I assume, he understood basic commands very early, but withheld his speech).

Our child was simply not functional.  And functionality is our main focus.  Now he understands "supper time".  "Bed time." etc.  And now he is learning to communicate he wants pajamas on, or whatever. It's great.  I really have hope we will win this.  But if we left this alone, as Tom suggests for the Einstein kids, our son would have no chance at a life.  All the language he has was specifically trained. He is just starting to pick up on language just from observation.  This is at age 4.  And that is how babies naturally learn language.  But the fact that he is starting to learn this gives us hope.

All this to say, I think he is very smart.  But, no, he isn't a savant.  He isn't counting cards or Mozart.  And unfortunately, he isn't comprehending everything we say but just choosing to withhold his own input and listen.  He is learning comprehension and social skills very deliberately, and thank God he was born now to us and we can give him all the love in the world and know that with proper training we can fix this, which I think is pretty damn unique in history.

Yeah, quiet weird kid geniuses existed all throughout history.  But you know what else existed all throughout history? Mutes, “weirdos,” “crazies,” "the unsound", "the infirm" “the fragile” and “the feeble.” Unfortunately for those deemed the latter, history doesn't talk about where they ended up or their outcomes much.  But from what I read prior to having such a son, it was very, very, very gruesome throughout history.  Again, grats to Tom on his kid, but don't let him fool you about mine.  I am very proud of my son.  But we, both him and I, work very hard for his gains.  I think he is very proud too.

Finally, Tom is fair with the statistics, he's just championing the cause which is important to him: These "Einstein" kids just need to be left alone, they are fine. He and his wife had a very hard struggle with this.  It's just not that prevalent, which may answer why his kid didn't fit into either camp (normal developing or autistic).

In Tom's defense, the first sentence of his preface is talking about exceptional children.  And he's damn right. His child is exceptional.  If I take fault with anything, it's that this book has become bandied about in autistic circles, where the vast majority need actual therapy and won't grow out of it. That's autism.  That's completely different.  This book belongs on the reading list of a vastly smaller group of parents’ shelves and they should be grateful to it.  But it doesn't belong anywhere near the moms’ and dads’ shelves we encounter daily.  It was a gut punch to read, because it didn't apply.  I guess, in that sense, I appreciate it helping me face the facts of my own situation.  But it should have vastly fewer copies sold, the majority of people buying this are likely hearing what they want to hear to the detriment of their children.


  1. You got to be autistic to be buying these types of books. Never took Sowell to be the bandwagon type. Just seems like a cash grab

  2. Clean up your kid's diet. Even if it doesn't help with his autism, it is still a good idea for his health and yours. Is he eating junk food, or anything processed and in packaging? Does he have rashes, allergies, or a distended belly? Take him off of gluten and give him organic fresh fruits, vegetables and grains. Look up the top allergens and try eliminating those from his diet. What if some of his issues are due to a corn, dairy or other sensitivity that has so far not been detected?

  3. Thanks for your words of caution for interpreting Sowell's conclusions.

    What statistics does Sowell cite?