Thomas Sowell has an interesting column on a syndrome with which I had been largely unfamiliar: geniuses who are labeled autistic or mentally retarded because they develop speech unusually late in life.

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James Joyner
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James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. John Lemon says:

    I actually think he has a book on this subject, which makes me think that either he was a late speaker, or he has a child who is. All told, this is somewhat disconcerting for me as I have a child who began speaking early and hasn’t shut up. Mehopes that Sowell’s causality doesn’t work in reverse or my kid will be talking his way into becoming Elinor Clift’s replacement. Ugh!!

  2. Emily says:

    My two year old son is a late talker. He has only said “da-da”, and it is rare we can get him to say that. I grew increasingly concerned and bought two books on late-talking children. One was the Sowell book, and another was a book on all the different “disorders” a child can have which leads them to speech problems. I read that book first, and none of those problems sounded like my son. My field is child psychology, incidentally. My son has a lot of the “classic” symptoms of autism, and I know many other psychologists would probably diagnose him as autistic based on his very late speech, his fascination with spinning objects, some bizarre play behaviors, and so on. Yet it is obvious he is not truly autistic. He is extremely friendly and affectionate, has no problem looking you in the eye, and has finally started to “mimic” some behaviors. He has never done things like “wave bye bye”, but it is quite clear from observing him that it’s more a lack of interest than anything else. I am amazed at the random silly things we use sometimes to assess a child’s cognitive abilities. One such example is “can he point to at least five body parts when asked?” My son can’t do this because I never taught him! He has never been interested in “child parlor tricks” as I like to call them, so I didn’t hassle him by trying to teach him those things. I let him learn what he’s interested in, and he’s not interested in performing tricks. He does, however, mimic things like sweeping and wiping up a spill with a towel. He’s actually come in handy with those skills lately! LOL

    Then I read Sowell’s book, and things suddenly clicked. My son plays well above his age level with things like puzzles. He has “organizational” skills; for instance, one of his favorite pastimes is to organize my refrigerator for me. He takes out all the bottles and lines them up or groups them by size, shape, type of condiment, etc. He also builds “structures” which are symmetrical and balanced. He’s too young to classify as a “late potty trainer”, like most of the children in Sowell’s study, but I have a feeling he’s headed that way as he shows no interest. He has ingenious ways of communicating, despite his lack of speech. Once when he was a little over a year old, he led me by the hand to his veggie tales poster and made me touch it, and then led me to the TV and made me touch that. He had found a way to tell me which video he wanted to watch, without saying a word. He also has an incredible memory, like the children in the study. I can show him a puzzle once or twice, and bring it out again a week or two later and he can pop the pieces in without hesitation. He also seems to remember events from months before.

    I definitely think there is something to this theory of late-talking children who turn out to be not just perfectly normal, but unusally bright. I think it’s an area that needs a lot more study, but clearly there is something going on here.