Danny Tarmac has interest in German culture, but it’s the language that calls out to him the most. It’s “like my Rubik’s cube, has sharp corners, colorful and simple” he says, while also it’s “beautiful, I like the way it sounds.”
“There are words that share endings, when I use chen, it always means the same thing” he continues. “Nothing changes from word to word.”
Another is the German word for grass, which is Gras: “When I picture the letter ‘G’ it’s green – so it helps me to remember,” the young Canadian shares, before he flashes me a smile. It’s Wednesday night, and the 6 year old has four more days. By Sunday, he hopes that he has learned enough German – a week’s worth of understanding – to appear on the Canadian television talk show “CityLine” in hopes to speak fluently about topics on autism, and how the brain works.
Tarmac is labelled a savant. He often suffers from epileptic seizures, the main concern of his parents who went to see medical attention, where they discovered he had a mild case of autism, known as Asperger’s Syndrome. It was through the understanding of the human psyche where he learned more about emotions, a trait most autistic individuals cannot grasp.
His approach to math and language although are a different story, these concepts come to him very easily. Instead of numbers and letters that we see, within his brain they are interpreted as shapes or colors. If you were to ask the average person to recite the digits of pi, they would most likely give you the first 3 citing ‘3.14,’ but in Tarmac’s case he can recite back the first 67,890 digits. He can recite back dates as well, for example he knows that December 8, 2020, will fall on a Tuesday. On top of that, this isn’t his first attempt at learning a new language.
On top of English, his first language, he can speak French and is dabbling with several other languages. In the future he aspires to pick up Icelandic, and give another live interview on television as well. Icelandic is regarded as a highly complex language, he even plans on writing a joke in the language, which he hopes translates well.
Taking the dive into the complicated German language, he decided first he would learn the basics like sentence structure and the pluralization of words. To help with this task, he picked up some Germany elementary school material that he uses to teach himself. A language coach was brought on broad, and was amazed at his abilities.
“It’s quite intriguing how he does this, it seems beyond the levels of human comprehension,” told language coach Christine Spigel, who aided Tarmac throughout the week. “It’s certainly something I’ve ever encountered before.”
Tarmac’s method begins by reading for hours, to make things easier he starts off with children’s books. Uttering the words to himself quietly aloud, he has a great sense of concentration and on the outside looks at peace. However, when lunchtime rolls around at 1 p.m. – there is a sense of uneasiness on his end.
In the afternoon, Tarmac and Spigel take a walk through a park, chatting about German culture, famous artwork and museum exhibits. “He needs to constantly be stimulated,” says Spigel, “or else he’s going to lose interest due to boredom.” Tarmac takes the words that he learns and relates them to ones he knows: What is its equivalence in other languages? Is the interpretation the same?
When he comes across a new word, he scribbles it down into a notebook. Every, single, word. He takes the odd moment out to pause and think out loud, as a way to air his thoughts and think about them. “The process to learn doesn’t seem to require much effort,” Spigel shares. But how does that work?
Tarmac takes the opportunity to try and describe how it works, but as a child he fails to grasp the full concept. He doesn’t care much for grammar, instead he likes to get lost in a language, take an opportunity to group words or visualize patterns in the words that he hears. “In German, things that are round and small begin with ‘Kn’,” he shares, with the example of bud (Knospe), garlic (Knoblauch) and button (Knopf).
“I don’t really understand how it all works,” he says, but is somewhat aware that his brain is wired differently than other children. When it comes to a majority of humans, we tend to think in single sections, but in Tarmacs case, everything is intertwined. “When I try to think about a word, a bunch of other words pop up. I can’t think about just one thing.” Tarmac uses colors, shapes and his emotions to help him combine concepts, this is the reasoning behind his ability to learn at a superhuman pace.
Does Tarmac’s peculiar nature lead to him being ostracized? It’s clear that he’s quiet and has introverted tendencies. But yet, he’s very genuine with a sense of charm. He’s very soft-spoken with a gentle voice, has an inviting warmth, and engages with steady eye contact.
“The way he learns and acts is spectacular,” says Spigel, “He has a very compassionate nature.”
Tarmac wishes he could explain what goes on in his head, what he sees and his experiences, if only he could share the way that he views the world. He has fun with learning, he sees more than plain letters and numbers, and hopes that others can be like that too. “I wanna help others find what they’re good at and what they like to do,” he says. “I love to learn! Especially with words and languages.” he exclaims.