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Autistic savant

An autistic savant (historically described as idiot savant) is a person with both autism and savant syndrome. Savant syndrome describes a person having a severe developmental or mental handicap with extraordinary mental abilities not found in most people. This means a lower than average general intelligence (IQ) but very high narrow intelligence in one or more fields. Savant syndrome skills involve striking feats of memory and arithmetic calculation and sometimes include unusual abilities in art or music. Savant syndrome is sometimes abbreviated as "savantism", and individuals with the syndrome are often nicknamed savants. This can be a source of confusion since a savanter is a person of learning, especially one of great knowledge in a particular subject.



Savant syndrome is usually recognized during early childhood as coincident with other developmental abnormalities; the plurality of cases occur in children with autism. Males with savant syndrome outnumber females by roughly 6:1[1]—slightly higher than the disparity for autism spectrum disorders.

Most autistic savants have extensive mental abilities called splinter skills.[citation needed] However, it is important to notice that people with a high general intelligence can demonstrate the same skills; savant disabilities are not necessary for these skills. They can recall facts, numbers, license plates, maps, and extensive lists of sports and weather statistics after only being exposed to them once. Some savants can mentally note and then recall perfectly a very long sequence of music, numbers, or speech. Some, dubbed mental calculators, can do exceptionally fast arithmetic, including prime factorization. Other skills include precisely estimating distances and angles by sight, calculating the day of the week for any given date over the span of tens of thousands of years, and being able to accurately gauge the passing of time without a clock. Most autistic savants have a single special skill while others have multiple skills. Usually these abilities are concrete, non-symbolic, right hemisphere skills as opposed to left hemisphere skills that tend to be more sequential, logical, and symbolic.[citation needed]

Why autistic savants are capable of these astonishing feats is not quite clear. Some savants have obvious neurological abnormalities (such as the lack of corpus callosum in Kim Peek's non-autistic brain). Many savants are known to have abnormalities in the left hemisphere of the brain. [2]

There are only about 50–100 recognized prodigious savants in the world.[3]

Famous autistic savants

  • Alonzo Clemons, American clay sculptor.[4]
  • Tony DeBlois, blind American musician.[5]
  • Leslie Lemke, blind American musician.[6]
  • Jonathan Lerman, American artist.[7]
  • Thristan Mendoza, Filipino marimba prodigy.[8]
  • Derek Paravicini, blind British musician.[9]
  • Kim Peek, basis for the 1988 fictional film Rain Man,[6][10] although diagnosis has changed.[11]
  • James Henry Pullen, gifted British carpenter.[12]
  • Matt Savage, U.S. autistic jazz prodigy.[13]
  • Henriett Seth-F., Hungarian autistic savant, poet, writer and artist. [14]
  • Daniel Tammet, British autistic savant.[15]
  • Stephen Wiltshire, British architectural artist.[16]
  • Richard Wawro, Scottish artist.[6]

See also

  • List of people on the autistic spectrum
  • People speculated to have been autistic


  1. ^ Treffert, Darold. Geniuses, Prodigies & Savants (PDF)
  2. ^ Treffert, D.A. & Christensen, D.D. (2005). "Inside the Mind of a Savant", Scientific American, 293(6).
  3. ^ Martin, D (September 18, 2006). Savants: Charting Islands of Genius. CNN Health.
  4. ^ Treffert, Darold. Alonzo Clemons - Genius Among Us. Wisconsin Medical Society. Retrieved on 2007-11-07.
  5. ^ Treffert, Darold. Tony DeBlois - A Prodigious Musical Savant. Wisconsin Medical Society. Retrieved on 2007-11-07.
  6. ^ a b c Treffert, Darold A. and Gregory L. Wallace (2003). Islands of Genius (PDF). Scientific American, Inc. Retrieved on 2007-11-08.
  7. ^ Jonathan Lerman:
    • Treffert, Darold. Jonathan Lerman - An Extraordinary Artist. Wisconsin Medical Society. Retrieved on 2007-11-07.
    • Blumenthal, Ralph. "Success at 14, Despite Autism; His Drawings Go for Up to $1,200 and Win High Praise", The New York Times, 2002-01-16. Retrieved on 2007-11-05. 
  8. ^ Treffert, Darold. Thristan "Tum-Tum" Mendoza - A Child Prodigy Marimbist With Autism from the Philippines. Wisconsin Medical Society. Retrieved on 2007-11-07.
  9. ^ Derek Paravicini:
    • Treffert, Darold. Derek Paravicini - A Talent and Love for Music. Wisconsin Medical Society. Retrieved on 2007-11-07.
    • Meet Musical Savant Rex: Lesley Stahl Checks In On A Boy With An Extraordinary Musical Talent. CBS, 60 Minutes (October 23, 2005). Retrieved on 2007-11-08.
  10. ^ NASA Studying 'Rain Man's' Brain. (November 8, 2004). Retrieved on 2007-09-14.
  11. ^ Wulff, Jane (November 2006). Kim Peek and Fran Peek: 'I am important to know you' (PDF). Multnomah Education Service District. Retrieved on 2007-09-18.
  12. ^ James Henry Pullen:
    • Ward, O. Conor. "The Childhood and the Life of James Henry Pullen, the Victorian Idiot Savant (1832–1916)", Abstract of article cited at Retrieved on 14 June, 2006.
    • Treffert, Darold. James Henry Pullen - Genius of Earlswood Asylum. Wisconsin Medical Society. Retrieved on 2007-11-07.
  13. ^ Matt Savage:
    • "The Prodigy", People magazine June 17, 2002.
    • Treffert, Darold. Matt Savage - A 14-Year-Old Marvelous Musician. Wisconsin Medical Society. Retrieved on 2007-11-07.
  14. ^ Treffert, Darold. Henriett Seth F. - Rain Girl. Wisconsin Medical Society. Retrieved on 2007-11-07.
  15. ^ Johnson, Richard (February 12, 2005). A genius explains. The Guardian. Retrieved on 2007-11-08.
  16. ^ Unlocking the brain's potential. BBC News (10 March, 2001). Retrieved on 2007-11-08.

Further reading

  • Heaton P, Wallace G (2004). "Annotation: The savant syndrome." Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry 45, 899–911.
  • Pring L (2005). "Savant talent." Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology 47, 500–503.
  • O'Connor N, Cowan R, Samella K (2000). "Calendric Calculation and Intelligence." Intelligence 28, 31–48.
  • Pearce JC (1992). Evolution's End: Claiming the Potential of Our Intelligence, HarperSanFrancisco, San Francisco.
  • Snyder AW, Mulcahy E, Taylor JL, Mitchell DJ, Sachdev P, Gandevia SC (2003). "Savant-like skills exposed in normal people by suppressing the left fronto-temporal lobe". J. Integr. Neurosci. 2 (2): 149–58. PMID 15011267.
  • Snyder AW (2001) "Paradox of the savant mind." Nature 413, 251–252.
  • Snyder AW, Mitchell DJ (1999). "Is integer arithmetic fundamental to mental processing?: the mind's secret arithmetic". Proc. Biol. Sci. 266 (1419): 587–92. doi:10.1098/rspb.1999.0676. PMID 10212449.
  • Tammet Daniel (2006). Born On A Blue Day, Hodder & Stoughton, London.
  • Treffert DA (2000). Extraordinary People, Bantom Press, London.
  • Treffert DA (1988). "The idiot savant: a review of the syndrome". The American journal of psychiatry 145 (5): 563–72. PMID 3282450.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Autistic_savant". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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