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In Rain Man, Raymond Babbit has the following attributes:

  • Eidetic memory
  • Crazy counting and maths skills
  • Obsessive compulsive about schedule (ie. meals, TV)
  • Dislike of human touch
  • "Random" fears - rain, flights, ect
  • Minimal interest in people
  • Doesn't understand money
  • Unusual way of talking

There are probably others. How realistic is this?

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An issue here is that autism is not a simple condition with a uniform set of markers and behaviors. Do you want to know if the character could be representative of some autistic individual or something like the frequency of the depicted behaviors and oddities in the autistic (or autism spectrum) population? Or something else? –  dmckee Dec 4 '12 at 2:15
    
@dmckee: You are correct that there are two aspects to this. 1) what a normal autistic person is like 2) what a plausible autistic person is like. Both are interesting –  Casebash Dec 4 '12 at 3:42

2 Answers 2

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Many, many references exist detailing that Dustin Hoffman's character was based in large part on Kim Peek, an autistic savant who exhibited a lot of the characteristics that Hoffman portrays. I think the key here is that there's a difference between being autistic and being a savant -- those are two distinct syndromes, and they don't often go together. Some of the things in your list would be a symptom of being a savant (eidetic memory, counting skills, etc), while others would come from from autism (and many of the things you list -- obsessive/compulsive nature, fears, minimal interest in people, etc. are known symptoms of autism in varying degrees). So what you see in Rain Man does happen, but is quite rare.

As a side note ... when I was 12, Kim Peek came to speak to our Junior High, and he really was like you see in the movie -- you could give him a date in history and he'd tell you what day of the week it happened on (adjusting for leap years, changing calendars, etc.), and he memorized the order of 3 shuffled decks of cards in a matter of seconds.

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It is realistic in the sense that it is not impossible for someone to be like this. However, this sort of person is extremely rare and is the combination of several different character, mental and physical traits all at once.

My daughter is autistic and she has the following out of your list:

•Eidetic memory (she remembers things from years ago, a big deal when you are 3)

•Obsessive compulsive about schedule (pretty standard for autistics)

•"Random" fears (she is terrified of some loud noises, dogs etc).

•Minimal interest in people (she lives in her own world a lot of the time but interacts happily with alter egos)

However, some of these are typical for a 3 year old anyway.

I have mild autism and I had several of these traits but have learned coping strategies. I used to have very good memory for things I had heard and could repeat some conversations from years previously word for word, if I watched a film a few times I pretty much knew the script etc. This has lessened now - now that it would be very useful.

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