Jewish World Review March 31, 1999 /14 Nissan 5759
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Language pathologist Stephen Camarata of Vanderbilt University also received dozens of e-mails after the show, even though he was not even mentioned on it. He is listed on my web site (www.tsowell.com) as the leading researcher on this subject.
What ignited all this interest was the story of Carol Gage's son Collin, a bright but late-talking little boy on whom "experts" had hung a variety of dire labels. Now seven years old, Collin is talking and his intellectual abilities and social development are beginning to belie the labels that were hastily put on him.
All too many parents of similar children have encountered similarly hasty and dogmatic "experts" -- in the school system especially. One of the mothers who contacted me told of her son's being put into classes for retarded children, even though his IQ later turned out to be 149, far above the national average of 100. Tragically, false diagnoses like these are all too common.
A man in the group I studied had an IQ of 180 but, when he was a child, his mother was warned that someday he might have to be "put away." Nuclear physicists Albert Einstein and Edward Teller were both suspected of being mentally retarded as small children, because they both talked late. So was famed 19th century pianist Clara Schuman.
Unusual mathematical and musical abilities have been a common pattern among the children I studied, as well as among their families. Most of these children have a close relative who is an engineer and more than one close relative who plays a musical instrument. In some of these families, engineers, mathematicians, scientists and both amateur and professional musicians abound.
No one really understands why some children who are very bright are also very late to begin speaking. But the worst problem is not ignorance. It is arrogance and dogmatism on the part of too many professionals to whom desperate and trusting parents turn for help. Some children have been declared "retarded" or "autistic" on the basis of less than ten minutes' observation.
Once the label is put on a child, everything that child does afterward may be seen within that framework. In a couple of cases, bright little boys who talked late also become enamored of some little girl in their preschool class and formed unusually close friendships with them. Nevertheless, teachers and other observers dogmatically insisted that these boys were autistic because that label had been put on them by some "expert."
These observers ignored what was happening before their eyes -- the forming of emotional ties that are so foreign to autistic children -- in favor of some label. Strained reasoning and twisted definitions were resorted to in one case to say that the inseparable little boy and girl were not "really" playing together. In another case, it was claimed that both children were autistic -- and that this was what attracted them to each other.
Equally dogmatic are the people who blame parents -- especially mothers -- when a child is late to talk. Usually it is laymen or school personnel who do this, but one of the mothers who phoned me after the "Dateline NBC" broadcast said that her own doctor implied that the problem was probably due to her not reading to the child. This doctor had no information on how much she read to the child -- which was a lot -- but just jumped to this conclusion.
Others have claimed that the children don't talk because parents anticipate their wishes or because siblings speak for them. Again, there is usually not a shred of evidence to back up these conclusions.
Professor Camarata, who has dealt with innumerable late-talking children at the Vanderbilt Medical Center, says that parents seldom have anything whatever to do with a child's late talking. A study in Britain indicated that heredity was the main factor among those children who were slowest to develop speech, even though environment is the main factor in how early other children talk.
The very reason Professor Camarata has launched research into this area is
that no one fully understands these special children. There is no disgrace
in the fact that our knowledge is not what we would like it to be. The
disgrace is the pretense that it is, at the expense of vulnerable children
and their distressed
03/29/99: Another Doleful prospect?