An autistic savant (more commonly known as an idiot savant) is a person who expresses extraordinary mental abilities, often in the fields of numerical calculation (not to be confused with mathematics) (see also mental calculator), art, or music but usually set within the context of autism or mental retardation.
When one has an extraordinary single skill in an otherwise unexceptional intellect, he or she may simply be described as a savant, without qualifier, although savant is usually meant to mean a person of learning, especially one of great knowledge in a particular subject, without remarking on the person's overall state of intellect.
It is a rare phenomenon which occurs in some autistic people and/or people with certain developmental disorders. Some people have acquired savant-like abilities after suffering from head injuries.
Autistic savantism is usually recognised during childhood and is often but not always found in autistic children. However it is also sometimes acquired in an accident or illness, typically one that impairs the left side of the brain. There is some research that suggests that it can be induced, which might support the view that unusual savant abilities are innate within all of us but obscured by the normal functioning intellect.
Most autistic savants have very extensive mental abilities, called splinter skills. They can memorize facts, numbers, license plates, maps, and extensive lists of sports and weather statistics. Some savants can mentally note and then recall back perfectly a very long series of music, numbers, or speech.
Some other autistic savant skills include:
- lightning-fast arithmetic calculations, including finding prime factorizations
- precisely estimating distances by sight
- calculating the day of the week for any given date over the span of tens of thousands of years
- perfect perception of passing time without a clock
Why autistic savants are capable of this sort of astonishing ability is not quite clear. Some savants have obvious neurological abnormalities, but the brains of most such individuals savants are anatomically and physiologically normal.
Examples of autistic savants include Blind Tom, who had exceptional musical ability although no musical education, and Richard Wawro, who is an exceptional autistic artist.
Famous autistic savants
- Jebediah Buxton , US savant calculator
Alonzo Clemons, US wax sculptor
Blind Tom, blind and mentally handicapped pianist in the 1860's USA
Tony DeBlois, US blind and autistic musician
Jonathan Lerman, US autistic artist
Leslie Lemke, US blind musician with brain damage
- Vito Mangiamele , Sicilian savant calculator
Thristan Mendoza, Filipino autistic marimba prodigy
Gottfried Mind, German autistic artist in 18th century (b. 1768)
Hikari Oe, Japanese developmentally delayed composer
Derek Paravicini, US blind musician with learning disability
Kim Peek, US autistic with eidetic memory and model for Rain Man
James Henry Pullen, British deaf-mute "Genius of Earlswood Asylum"
- Matthew Savage , US autistic jazz prodigy
Gilles Trehin, French autistic artist and creator of the fictitious city of Urville
Richard Wawro, Scottish autistic artist
Stephen Wiltshire, British autistic artist
- Ben Philibain , Australian autistic savant calculator
- Daniel Tammet , UK synaesthetic high-functioning autistic savant
In movies and literature
Also to mention, The Neurologist Oliver Sacks has written a non-fiction about savantism.
- O'Connor N., Cowan R., & Samella K. (2000) Calendric Calculation and Intelligence. Intelligence 28, 31 ? 48.
- Pearce J.C. (1992) Evolution's end, HarperSanFrancisco, San Francisco.
- Snyder A.W. et al. (2003) Savant-like skills exposed in normal people by suppressing the left fronto-temporal lobe. J. Intergrative Neuroscience 2, 149 ? 158.
- Snyder A.W. (2001) Paradox of the savant mind. Nature 413, 251 ? 252.
- Snyder A.W., & Michell D.J. (1999) Is integer arithmetic fundamental to mental processing?: the mind's secret arithmetic? Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B. 266, 587 ? 592.
- Treffert D.A. (2000) Extraordinary people, Bantom press, London.
- Treffert D.A. (1988) The Idiot Savant: A review of the Syndrome. Am. J. Psychiatry 145, 563 ? 572.
Last updated: 08-07-2005 21:44:59