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by Thomas Sowell
Basic Books, 2001
Review by E. Siobhan Mitchell on Oct 15th 2002
It is ironic how 30 years ago
doctors were loath to give parents a diagnosis of autism when presented with a
late-talking child, yet now parents must fight to convince child evaluators
that a late-talking toddler does not always indicate pervasive developmental
disorder. The Einstein Syndrome focuses this small component of children
who might outwardly give all the signs of autism, such as fascination with
mechanical devices and reluctance to speak, who are actually normal social and
in terms of general intelligence. The name of the book comes from the famous
anecdote on Einstein, who purportedly didnt speak full sentences until age 5,
and was labeled an idiot despite exceptional mathematical ability. With The
Einstein Syndrome, Thomas Sowell, a noted economist affiliated with
Stanford, has followed up his earlier book, Late-Talking Children, with
more detailed case studies and a large section on advice to parents of
So how exactly did an economist
come to write about child development syndromes? Sowell begins his book by
relating his own experiences as a parent of a child who refused to speak until
kindergarten. He had clues that his son was intelligent by observing him
opening complicated child safety gates but found that friends and colleagues
were more discouraging about his sons intellect. Sowell found that little
documentation of this Einstein syndrome existed, and so embarked on his own
research with Dr. Stephen Camarata, collecting families and studying
similarities between them.
This book is a very useful volume
for any parents with a child whose behavior fits that of the Einstein
Syndrome. There are several chapters describing the kinds of parents that may
be more likely to have a late-talking child, such as engineers or musicians,
with extensive descriptions of behavior associated with late-talking children.
However, the bulk of the book discusses individual case studies of adults and
adolescents who were late-talking. Sowell has acquired a large database of
Einstein Syndrome children where he documents their behavior from infant to
adult, indicating their level of academic achievement or other notable skills
such as instrument-playing or computer programming. The feeling one gets from
reading these case studies is that he attempt to give the rosiest picture
possible of late-talking children, emphasizing their abilities and glossing
over deficits. Sowell finishes the book with several chapters on how parents
can get help for their late-talking progeny. There are listings of psychologists
who can provide developmental testing, websites and associations devoted to
Einstein Syndrome children. He asserts the importance of early intervention
in maximizing the potential of such individuals and ends with his personal
thoughts on sociological implications of Einstein Syndrome.
There are several aspects of this
book that need to be critiqued. First is the lack of discussion on the
cognitive neuroscience aspects of Einstein Syndrome. The epidemiological
studies cited give evidence that this syndrome does, in fact, exist, but Sowell
does not even offer possibilities on how such a cognitive phenomenon may arise.
Secondly, the case studies project a somewhat biased perspective, in that each
individual is depicted as an ultimately successful individual. Sowell records
how most case studies had moderate success in school and in finding an
appropriate career but does not delve into the social adjustment of these
children. This omission is surprising since one would expect that the main difficulty
of overcoming late speech is learning how to developing relationships with
people through communication. The author uses social descriptions of case
studies mainly to point out how these children cant be autistic, but doesnt
assess whether these adolescents are socially successful. A third critique
would be the fact that this book may be detrimental to those parents who do
have an autistic child but want to believe he or she is only late-talking.
The Einstein Syndrome is a
fascinating look at a very little known cognitive development pattern. Sowell
has obviously researched this book as a labor of love, since it is such a
radical departure from his chosen area of expertise. He presents a sympathetic
and thoughtful portrayal of what is like to be a parent of a late-talking child
and offers hope and advice on how to raise one.
© 2002 E. Siobhan Mitchell
E. Siobhan Mitchell writes about
I am a 27 year old PhD student in neuroscience living in
upstate NY. I am studying the effects of prenatal drug exposure on the brain.
My favorite authors are Diana Wynne Jones and Wilton Barnhardt. I love reading
coming-of-age books and watching the same type of movies. I have a
three-year-old son who loves listening to Harry Potter as a bed-time story.