Excerpt: "Born on a Blue Day," by Daniel Tammet

Seeing words in different colors and textures aids my memory for facts and names. For example, I remember that the winning cyclist of each stage of the Tour de France wins a yellow jersey (not green or red or blue), because the word jersey is yellow to me. Similarly, I can remember that Finland's national flag has a blue cross (on a white background) because the word Finland is blue (as are all words beginning with the letter F). When I meet someone for the first time I often remember their name by the color of the word: Richards are red, Johns are yellow, and Henrys are white.

It also helps me to learn other languages quickly and easily. I currently know ten languages: English (my native language), Finnish, French, German, Lithuanian, Esperanto, Spanish, Romanian, Icelandic and Welsh. Associating the different colors and emotions I experience for each word with its meaning helps bring the words to life. For example, the Finnish word tuli is orange to me and means "fire." When I read or think about the word I immediately see the color in my head, which evokes the meaning. Another example is the Welsh word gweilgi, which is a green and dark blue color and means "sea." I think it is an extremely good word for describing the sea's colors. Then there is the Icelandic word rökkur, which means "twilight" or "dusk." It is a crimson word and when I see it, it makes me think of a blood red sunset.

I remember as a young child, during one of my frequent trips to the local library, spending hours looking at book after book trying in vain to find one that had my name on it. Because there were so many books in the library, with so many different names on them, I'd assumed that one of them -- somewhere -- had to be mine. I didn't understand at the time that a person's name appears on a book because he or she wrote it. Now that I'm twenty-six I know better. If I were ever going to find my book one day, I was going to have to write it first.

Writing about my life has given me the opportunity to get some perspective on just how far I've come, and to trace the arc of my journey up to the present. If someone had told my parents ten years ago that I would be living completely independently, with a loving relationship and a career, I don't think they would have believed it and I'm not sure I would have either. This book will tell you how I got there.

My younger brother Steven has recently been diagnosed with the same form of high-functioning autism that I have. At nineteen, he is going through a lot of the challenges that I too faced while growing up, from problems with anxiety and loneliness to uncertainty about the future. When I was a child, doctors did not know about Asperger's syndrome (it was not recognized as a unique disorder until 1994) and so for many years I grew up with no understanding of why I felt so different from my peers and apart from the world around me. By writing about my own experiences of growing up on the autistic spectrum, it is my hope that I can help other young people living with high-functioning autism, like my brother Steven, to feel less isolated and to have confidence in the knowledge that it is ultimately possible to lead a happy and productive life. I'm living proof of that.

Copyright © 2006 by Daniel Tammet

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