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The Einstein Syndrome: Bright Children Who…

The Einstein Syndrome: Bright Children Who Talk Late

by Thomas Sowell

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First and foremost, this is a book of advocacy and support for a small but tragically underserved group, parents of children who are bright but whose language development is delayed. These bright children form only a small minority of those with language impairment (most of the others do have other intellectual or perceptual problems) but they seem to share certain characteristics. A parent of such a child, the author gathers data and corresponds with experts to gather still more information about this unusual combination of traits and how they might come about. These children are of at minimum average and usually much higher IQ, and are particularly gifted in analytical/mathematical and musical skills and come from similarly gifted families, but they talk much later than others. One of the traits that emerges in such children is strong will, which calls into question the validity of intelligence tests that children will obediently comply like "trained seals" with requests of adults who administer such tests. Tragically, those evaluating the youngsters not infrequently treat such unresponsiveness as lack of intelligence or inability to form human connections, permanently branding the children with misapplied labels (such as "autism" and "pervasive developmental disorder") and applying coercion for misapplied therapies (in classrooms with genuinely disabled and emotionally troubled youngsters) which can actively retard progress in both language and social development. Because such a tragedy has touched his family, the author is personally driven to combat such harmful misperceptions. The author is a highly intelligent, educated, and an analytical thinker himself, and thus he is drawn to present some statistical evidence as well as possible neurological basis for these traits. This research is thus far preliminary, however. There are issues with the rigor of self-selected surveys, and it is not unfair to critically examine the evidence. Despite imperfections, however, the evidence does support clustering of certain traits highly unlikely to have appeared by chance.

The book draws upon peer-reviewed literature and well-placed connections with experts in neuroscience and language development, but the author himself is a layperson in this field. He is, in fact, a well-respected economist and newspaper columnist. As such, he has a flair for polemic which does not go un-exercised here. Unfortunately the passion and style of his rhetoric lead him to repeat things a few too many times, and to use inflammatory phrases more than might help his point. To question the credentials and training of the speech-language "experts" in schools is important and laudable, but it's really unnecessary to keep using the derogatory label "semi-professionals" over and over again. Yes, many readers are familiar with the fact that on average those who choose education and social work as professions are not incredibly bright. While this is a statistical fact, and speech-language therapists may over-reach their actual expertise and training, the vigor with which practitioners is attacked is overdone. No doubt this usage is the reaction to hearing stories of parents who were browbeaten and told they were "in denial" about supposed broader mental defects in their children, but forty or so times would have been enough for Sowell to make his point. Similarly, evaluators do have some financial and emotional conflict of interest in having more children "need" their services, but I had a hard time believing the profession was as dominated by sinister motives as the author seemed to represent at times. Yes, the "autism spectrum" label has become a bit trendy as of late, but the science does not seem to be as dismissive of Asperger's as this author.

The book is certainly more an aide to parents who might feel they are alone in their struggle, and it effectively gives pointers to parents. It is also of interest to those who generally find developmental and abnormal psychology intriguing, although the anecdotes become repetitious. The use of famous persons as examples is interesting, although it does tend to sensationalize the group somewhat.

Despite its weaknesses, I did enjoy the book as a quick read. It certainly aroused my interest in the topic, and I look forward to reading more as the longitudinal studies progress for the larger sample of youngsters.
  caffron | Dec 25, 2010 |
I checked this book out of the library because of its subtitle, 'Bright Children Who Talk Late' and when my husband saw it he sat down and read the book before I could get to it. Then I read it in one day. This author was describing our son! Although Sowell's main audience was worried parents of very young children we were fascinated by the descriptions of children in this subset of late talkers.

Because of the different development patterns of the brain in males and females, most of the children in this group are male; many are left handed, strong-willed, and they often have violent tempers and are easily frustrated when very young. They are also often labeled autistic and ADHD even though they aren't really and frequently just need an environment that will let them march to their own very different drummer. Another commonality is the prevalence of engineers,mathematicians, and musicians among their close relatives.

The reassuring message here is that this particular group of late talkers nearly always grow out of this stage by middle school, catch up socially, and often become successful in their chosen fields.

Though the case histories can become a little repetitive I would definitely recommend this book. Not just because it can be reassuring to find out that your family isn't the only one with a child who is obviously smart but not at all verbal but because Sowell advises the truly worried parent to get a variety of completely independent professional opinions about whether or not their child really needs interventions, medications, etc. and also which ones will do more good than harm.

Disclaimer: We didn't do anything special with our son and he began talking just a couple of weeks before his third birthday and hasn't stopped talking since. He is now, at age 30, a software engineer and one of the founders of a tech start-up headquartered in Silicon Valley.
1 vote hailelib | Dec 24, 2010 |
This is more-or-less a reworking of his book "Late Talking Children". I'm glad that he champions against labeling children, but it is odd that he creates his own label for these kids. My daughter easily could have been one of the children in this book; talked late, potty-trained late, has dead-on perfect pitch, and is very bright, although socially is behind her peers. Still, it was reassuring to read this. She is doing great! ( )
  nevusmom | Jun 4, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 046508141X, Paperback)

The Einstein Syndrome is a follow-up to Late-Talking Children, which established Thomas Sowell as a leading spokesman on the subject. While many children who talk late suffer from developmental disorders or autism, there is a certain well-defined group who are developmentally normal or even quite bright, yet who may go past their fourth birthday before beginning to talk. These children are often misdiagnosed as autistic or retarded, a mistake that is doubly hard on parents who must first worry about their apparently handicapped children and then must see them lumped into special classes and therapy groups where all the other children are clearly very different.Since he first became involved in this issue in the mid-1990s, Sowell has joined with Stephen Camarata of Vanderbilt University, who has conducted a much broader, more rigorous study of this phenomenon than the anecdotes reported in Late-Talking Children. Sowell can now identify a particular syndrome, a cluster of common symptoms and family characteristics, that differentiates these late-talking children from others; relate this syndrome to other syndromes; speculate about its causes; and describe how children with this syndrome are likely to develop.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:59 -0400)

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