A 9-year-old mind-reading savant is discovered
In 2013, a nine-year-old autistic girl from Sharjah, India was discovered to have an extraordinary ability to feel her mother’s emotions and read her mother’s thoughts without touch or any other physical medium. Nandana Unnikrishnan was revealed to the world in April 2013 and she could be the next name added to a worldwide registry of people with savant talents. Savant syndrome is a condition in which a person with serious mental disabilities demonstrates profound and prodigious abilities far in excess of what is considered normal. Nandana Unnikrishnan’s parents began to notice her unusual reactions to her mother’s thoughts at an early age. When her mother felt or thought something, nine-year-old Nandana would react – without being told. Before long they began to realize that it was not just coincidence – Nandana was reading her mother’s mind. Her mother, Sandhya Unnikrishnan is baffled.
“We don’t know how this is happening. But, she can feel my emotions and read my thoughts.”
Like many savants with unusual talents, Nandana was found to be autistic when she was just one and a half years old. She was found to be functioning with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention deficit hyperactivity syndrome (ADHD) conditions which makes some types of learning difficult for her.
“Initially, it was very difficult for me to teach her even the concept of some objects. I had to really struggle to make her understand a cup is a cup. It took about a month for her to grasp it.”
Now the mother says it is easy for Nandana to pick up new concepts but she fears she is not learning per se, but rather “reading” her mothers thoughts to glean knowledge and understanding of new topics that are introduced to her.
“She used to answer questions so intelligently that was not expected of a child with her disability level or of her age. I think it was because the answers were in my mind that she was able to do so.”
Words have always been difficult to Nandana. Even expressing simple thoughts is hard for her. But her parents discovered that she could communicate quite well through a computer keyboard (although she does not understand the concepts of punctuation and spacing between words). With this new method of communication opening up a new means for Nandana to express herself, her parents took her to a Child Guidance Clinic in India for further evaluation. A team of experts – a specialist psychiatrist, a specialist social worker and a special educator along with one nursing staff witnessed a demonstration of Nandana’s mind-reading skill. All agreed that Nandana’s unusual talent was so extraordinary, she should be classified as a savant. In their report, the explained how the tests were conducted.
“Nandana had come with her mother Sandhya Unnikrishnan. A poem of Grade 2 level was written and given to Sandhya. After her mother had read the poem in her mind, Nandana was asked to type in the laptop provided to her.
Nandana could type the entire poem without any prompt. A six digit number was also written and given to Sandhya, which too, Nandana could type after reading her mother’s mind.”
The doctors explained that autism is all about lack of connectivity in the brain circuit. “But, it is very much surprising that Nandana can connect with her mother’s thoughts and emotions and react to them.” They said that this is the first time they’ve seen an autistic patient with a telepathic ability such as Nandana’s.
Khaleej Times conducts its own independent tests
As word of Nandana spread throughout India, skeptics immediately began countering the outrageous claims. The Indian newspaper, Khaleej Times, decided to independently test Nandana’s abilities themselves and arranged a test session with Nandana’s parents. Immediately they recognized Nandan’s autistic characteristics – Nandana had trouble pronouncing simple words and seemed to let her mind wander during the interview. They were barely into their first round of testing when they too agreed that Nandana’s mind-reading abilities were off-the-chart.
“In our test, Sandhya was first given a note. It read “044050799 – the office number of Khaleej Times. When her mother asked her to start typing, Nandana started keying in the numbers without even looking at her mother. As she typed 044050799, it became evident to us that the child can actually read her mind! We were witnessing something unseen and unheard of.”
They continued the test by next giving Sandhya a note that read, “Can I have some warm water please?”. Nandana’s response came out as a sentence without any space between the words and with some minor spelling mistakes in between. But, it was still as amazing as the first instance.
Reporters explained how the tests were concluded:
“To determine how the child would react when the mother is away, we sent Nandana to the bedroom and asked Sandhya to think about an object. When she decided the object as “biscuit” and told us that, without letting Nandana hear it, we called Nandana to the living room. Sandhya was then sent to the bedroom. Her mother prompted her, saying aloud, “say what it is Nandana.” Looking very shy, the child leaned on her father and started pronouncing the word slowly. “bis…ki..t,” she said.”
Soon after the Khaleej Times article, experts in the fields of autism and psychiatry caught wind of the phenomenal young girl. Dr Darold A. Treffert, has been dubbed the godfather of savant research and was a consultant for the Oscar-winning box office smash Rain Man, which depicted Dustin Hoffman as a savant. Dr Treffert began researching Nandana’s talents is now in correspondence with Nandana’s parents, clearing their doubts and advising them how to go about further research. He agrees that the testing has been unbiased and the results mind-blowing. He noted that Nandana may soon be included in the worldwide registry of people with savant abilities.