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People with developmental disabilities can't change - or can they?

"It belies the myth that people with developmental disabilities can't change"

This is a quote from a documentary on Kim Peek, the individual on whom the title character, Rain Man, was based. Kim is, of course, an autistic savant with extraordinary memory abilities, to the extent that he remembers nearly every fact he is exposed to. And Kim's abilities are so impressive that there may only be about 50 people on the planet whose cognitive talents approach his.

Interesting facts about Kim:

1. Until his early thirties, he was classified as mentally retarded.

2. He has agenesis of the corpus callosum, meaning that the thick bundle of nerve tissue that connects the two hemispheres of the brain in most people does not exist in Kim's brain.

3. Kim has a very limited ability to understand metaphors. So, if you were to say to him, "Get a grip on yourself", he would take the statement literally and begin to grab himself.

4. Give Kim any date in history and he can instantly tell you on which day of the week the date occurred.

5. Unlike most savants who seem to specialize in one area (such as an extraordinary ability to replicate music or draw), Kim seems to soak up data...about nearly anything and everything.

The documentary on Kim (on science channel) was fascinating. But I have to admit, after watching the incredible talents of a savant being demonstrated, I was surprised to hear him described as developmentally disabled. Of course, he certainly is. At 52, he must rely on his father to help him with basic activities of daily living, such as brushing his teeth. But, it just shows that the term developmental disability includes a bit more than we commonly conceptualize.

The quote, by the way, is a reference to the fact that, though Kim is now fairly social, at the time Rain Man was being produced he had difficulty even looking another person in the eye. Now, he addresses people in numbers great enough to fill lecture halls.

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For the sake of clarity, SSDRC.com is not the Social Security Administration, nor is it associated or affiliated with SSA. This site is a personal, private website that is published, edited, and maintained by former caseworker and former disability claims examiner, Tim Moore, who was interviewed by the New York Times on the topic of Social Security Disability and SSI benefits in an article entitled "The Disability Mess" and also by the Los Angeles Times on the subject of political attempts to weaken the Social Security Disability system.

The goal of the site is to provide information about how Social Security Disability and SSI work, the idea being that qualified information may help claimants pursue their claims and appeals, potentially avoiding time-consuming mistakes. If you find the information on this site helpful and believe it would be helpful to others, feel free to share links to its homepage or other pages on website resource pages, blogs, or social media. Copying of this material, however, is prohibited.

To learn more about the author, please visit the SSDRC.com homepage and view the "about this site" link near the bottom of the page.