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Savant syndrome, sometimes abbreviated as savantism, is not a recognized medical diagnosis, but researcher Darold Treffert describes it as a rare condition in which persons with developmental disorders have one or more areas of expertise, ability, or brilliance that are in contrast with the individual's overall limitations. Treffert says the condition can be genetic, but can also be acquired.[1]

According to Treffert, about half of all persons with savant syndrome have autistic disorder, while the other half have another developmental disability, mental retardation, brain injury or disease. He says, "... not all autistic persons have savant syndrome and not all persons with savant syndrome have autistic disorder".[1] Other researchers state that autistic traits and savant skills may be linked,[2] or have challenged some earlier conclusions about savant syndrome as "hearsay, uncorroborated by independent scrutiny".[3]

Though it is even more rare than the savant condition itself, some savants have no apparent abnormalities other than their unique abilities. This does not mean that these abilities weren't triggered by a brain dysfunction of some sort but does temper the theory that all savants are disabled and that some sort of trade-off is required.[4] (see Prodigious Savants below)

Contents

Characteristics

According to Treffert, something that almost all savants have in common is a prodigious memory of a special type, a memory that he describes as "very deep, but exceedingly narrow". It is narrow in the sense that they can recall but have a hard time putting it to use (for more on this see section on savants in Advanced Memory).[1]

Causes

Savant-like skills may be latent in everyone and have been simulated in neurotypical people by directing low-frequency magnetic pulses into the brain's left front temporal lobe, which is thought to activate the region and allow for more-direct processing of a savant-like task involving rapid counting. [5]

Mechanism

Savant syndrome is poorly understood. No widely accepted cognitive theory explains the combination of talent and deficit found in savants.[6] It has been suggested that autistic individuals are biased towards detail-focused processing and that this cognitive style predisposes both autistic and nonautistic individuals to savant talents.[7] Another hypothesis is that hyper-systemizing predisposes people to show talent, where hyper-systemizing is an extreme state in the empathizing–systemizing theory that classifies people based on their skills in empathizing with others versus systemizing facts about the external world,[8] and that the attention to detail shown by many savants is a consequence of enhanced perception or sensory hypersensitivity in autistic individuals.[8][9] It has also been suggested that savants operate by directly accessing low-level, less-processed information that exists in all human brains but is normally not available to conscious awareness.[5]

Savant syndrome is six times more frequent in males than females, and this difference is not entirely explained by the preponderance of males in the autistic population. This has led to suggestions that the Geschwind–Galaburda hypothesis applies to savant syndrome where both the brain injury and savantism appear to be congenital.[1]

Epidemiology

According to Treffert:[1]

  • One in ten autistic persons has savant skills.
  • 50% of savants are autistic; the other 50% often have different disabilities, mental retardation, brain injuries, or brain diseases.
  • Male savants outnumber female savants by about six times.

A 2009 British study of 137 autistic individuals found that 28% met criteria for a savant skill, that is, a skill or power "at a level that would be unusual even for normal people"; the study suggested that the number is likely to be an underestimate, with the true value being at least a third of individuals with autism.[10]

History

According to Treffert, the term idiot savant (French for "learned idiot" or "knowledgeable idiot") was first used to describe the condition in 1887 by John Langdon Down, who is known for his description of Down Syndrome. During the late-19th and early-20th century, "Idiot" was a scientifically acceptable term to refer to a person whose IQ was less than 20. The term idiot savant was later described as a misnomer because almost all reported cases since that time occur in persons with IQ more than 40. The term autistic savant was also used during this time period as a diagnosis for this disorder. Like idiot savant, the term autistic savant also became looked at as a misnomer because only one-half of those who were diagnosed at the time with savant syndrome were autistic. Upon realisation of the need for accuracy within the diagnosis and dignity towards the individual, the term savant syndrome became widely accepted terminology.[1]

Society and culture

Kim Peek was the basis for the 1988 fictional film Rain Man because he was a megasavant.[11]

An episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit titled "Savant" portrayed a young girl as savant (she has Williams Syndrome) that is able to identify pitch and sound of voices, hearing so well she is able to repeat her mother's attack verbatim (except for when she says "The end" after finishing). She also demonstrates this ability when the prosecutor whispers three questions and she responds correctly to all three.

Prodigious savants

A prodigious savant is someone whose skill level would qualify him or her as a prodigy, or exceptional talent, even in the absence of a cognitive disability. Prodigious savants are those individuals whose abilities would be considered phenomenal or genius even in a person without any limitations or special diagnosis of impairment. The most common trait of these prodigious savants is their seemingly limitless mnemonic skills, with many having eidetic or photographic memories. Indeed, prodigious savants are extremely rare, with fewer than one hundred noted in more than a century of literature on the subject. Treffert, the leading researcher in the study of savant syndrome, estimates that fewer than fifty or so such individuals are believed to be alive in the world today. The website of the Wisconsin Medical Society lists 29 savant profiles.[12] Darold Treffert is past-president of the society.


The following are well-known people with savant syndrome, noted for their talent in their respective fields:

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f Treffert DA (2009). "The savant syndrome: an extraordinary condition. A synopsis: past, present, future". Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 364 (1522): 1351–7. doi:10.1098/rstb.2008.0326. PMID 19528017. http://www.wisconsinmedicalsociety.org/system/files/savant_article.pdf. Lay summary – Wisconsin Medical Society. 
  2. ^ Heaton P, Wallace GL (July 2004). "Annotation: the savant syndrome". J Child Psychol Psychiatry 45 (5): 899–911. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.2004.t01-1-00284.x. PMID 15225334. "CONCLUSIONS: We thus conclude that autism (or autistic traits) and savant skills are inextricably linked and we should therefore look to autism in our quest to solve the puzzle of the savant syndrome.". 
  3. ^ McMullen T (December 1991). "The savant syndrome and extrasensory perception". Psychol Rep 69 (3 Pt 1): 1004–6. doi:10.2466/PR0.69.7.1004-1006. PMID 1784646. "D.A. Treffert, following B. Rimland, cited examples which he states show ESP to be occurring in certain autistic savant children. The evidence is questioned on the ground that it is hearsay, uncorroborated by independent scrutiny.". 
  4. ^ a b "The Boy With The Incredible Brain". http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=4913196365903075662&hl=en&fs=true. Retrieved 2009-03-31. 
  5. ^ a b Snyder A (2009). "Explaining and inducing savant skills: privileged access to lower level, less-processed information". Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 364 (1522): 1399–405. doi:10.1098/rstb.2008.0290. PMID 19528023. http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/364/1522/1399.full. Lay summary – The Economist (2009-04-16). 
  6. ^ Pring L (2005). "Savant talent". Dev Med Child Neurol 47 (7): 500–3. doi:10.1017/S0012162205000976. PMID 15991873. 
  7. ^ Happé F, Vital P (2009). "What aspects of autism predispose to talent?". Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 364 (1522): 1369–75. doi:10.1098/rstb.2008.0332. PMID 19528019. Lay summary – The Economist (2009-04-16). 
  8. ^ a b Baron-Cohen S, Ashwin E, Ashwin C, Tavassoli T, Chakrabarti B (2009). "Talent in autism: hyper-systemizing, hyper-attention to detail and sensory hypersensitivity" (PDF). Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 364 (1522): 1377–83. doi:10.1098/rstb.2008.0337. PMID 19528020. http://autismresearchcentre.com/docs/papers/2009_BC_etal_Talent_RoyalSoc.pdf. Retrieved 2009-06-08. 
  9. ^ Mottron L, Dawson M, Soulières I (2009). "Enhanced perception in savant syndrome: patterns, structure and creativity". Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 364 (1522): 1385–91. doi:10.1098/rstb.2008.0333. PMID 19528021. 
  10. ^ Howlin P, Goode S, Hutton J, Rutter M (2009). "Savant skills in autism: psychometric approaches and parental reports". Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 364 (1522): 1359–67. doi:10.1098/rstb.2008.0328. PMID 19528018. Lay summary – The Economist (2009-04-16). 
  11. ^ "Kim Peek, the original Rain Man, dies". http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article6964730.ece. 
  12. ^ unknown. "Savant profiles". Wisconsin Medical Society. http://www.wisconsinmedicalsociety.org/savant_syndrome/savant_profiles. Retrieved 2008-09-09. 
  13. ^ Weber B (26 December 2009). "Kim Peek, inspiration for 'Rain Man,' dies at 58". The New York Times. Retrieved 24 January, 2010.
  14. ^ Johnson, Richard (2005-02-12). "A genius explains". The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/weekend/story/0,,1409903,00.html. Retrieved 2007-11-08. 
  15. ^ Treffert, Darold. "Alonzo Clemons - Genius Among Us". Wisconsin Medical Society. http://www.wisconsinmedicalsociety.org/savant_syndrome/savant_profiles/alonzo_clemons. Retrieved 2007-11-07. 
  16. ^ Treffert, Darold. "Tony DeBlois - A Prodigious Musical Savant". Wisconsin Medical Society. http://www.wisconsinmedicalsociety.org/savant_syndrome/savant_profiles/tony_deblois. Retrieved 2007-11-07. 
  17. ^ a b Treffert, Darold A. and Gregory L. Wallace (2003). "Islands of Genius" (PDF). Scientific American, Inc. http://www.gordonresearch.com/articles_autism/SciAm-Islands_of_Genius.pdf. Retrieved 2007-11-08. 
  18. ^ Jonathan Lerman:
  19. ^ Treffert, Darold. "Thristan "Tum-Tum" Mendoza - A Child Prodigy Marimbist With Autism from the Philippines". Wisconsin Medical Society. http://www.wisconsinmedicalsociety.org/savant_syndrome/savant_profiles/thristan_mendoza. Retrieved 2007-11-07. 
  20. ^ Derek Paravicini:
  21. ^ James Henry Pullen:
  22. ^ "Matt Savage: The Prodigy", People magazine June 17, 2002
  23. ^ Treffert, Darold. "Matt Savage - A 14-Year-Old Marvelous Musician". Wisconsin Medical Society. http://www.wisconsinmedicalsociety.org/savant_syndrome/savant_profiles/matt_savage. Retrieved 2007-11-07. 
  24. ^ Treffert, Darold. "Henriett Seth F. - Rain Girl". Wisconsin Medical Society. http://www.wisconsinmedicalsociety.org/savant_syndrome/savant_profiles/henriett_seth. Retrieved 2007-11-07. 
  25. ^ "Unlocking the brain's potential". BBC News. 2001-03-10. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/1211299.stm. Retrieved 2007-11-08. 
  26. ^ Horwitz, et al., 1965
  27. ^ Sacks, Oliver, 1985
  28. ^ Tracey Eagan (2009-05-06). "Twin Savants Fixated on Dick Clark". Jezebel. http://jezebel.com/5243027/twin-savants-fixated-on-dick-clark. Retrieved 2009-07-19. 
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Savant syndrome (pronounced /səˈvɑːnt/[1]), sometimes referred to as savantism, is a rare condition in which people with developmental disorders have one or more areas of expertise, ability, or brilliance that are in contrast with the individual's overall limitations. Although not a recognized medical diagnosis, researcher Darold Treffert says the condition may be either genetic or acquired.[2]

According to Treffert, about half of all people with savant syndrome have autistic disorder, while the other half have another developmental disability, mental retardation, brain injury or disease. He says, "... not all autistic people have savant syndrome and not all people with savant syndrome have autistic disorder".[2] Other researchers state that autistic traits and savant skills may be linked,[3] or have challenged some earlier conclusions about savant syndrome as "hearsay, uncorroborated by independent scrutiny".[4]

Though it is even more rare than the savant condition itself, some savants have no apparent abnormalities other than their unique abilities. This does not mean that these abilities weren't triggered by a brain dysfunction of some sort but does temper the theory that all savants are disabled and that some sort of trade-off is required.[5] (see Prodigious Savants below)

Contents

Characteristics

According to Treffert, something that almost all savants have in common is a prodigious memory of a special type, a memory that he describes as "very deep, but exceedingly narrow". It is narrow in the sense that they can recall but have a hard time putting it to use (for more on this see section on savants in Advanced Memory).[2] Also, many savants are found to have incredible artistic or musical ability.

Causes

Savant-like skills may be latent in everyone and have been simulated in people by directing low-frequency magnetic pulses into the brain's left hemisphere, which is thought to deactivate this dominant region (in at least 90% of right handers) and allow the less dominant right hemisphere to take over, allowing for processing of a savant-like tasks. [6]

Mechanism

Savant syndrome is poorly understood. No widely accepted cognitive theory explains the combination of talent and deficit found in savants.[7] It has been suggested that autistic individuals are biased towards detail-focused processing and that this cognitive style predisposes both autistic and nonautistic individuals to savant talents.[8] Another hypothesis is that hyper-systemizing predisposes people to show talent, where hyper-systemizing is an extreme state in the empathizing–systemizing theory that classifies people based on their skills in empathizing with others versus systemizing facts about the external world,[9] and that the attention to detail shown by many savants is a consequence of enhanced perception or sensory hypersensitivity in autistic individuals.[9][10] It has also been suggested that savants operate by directly accessing low-level, less-processed information that exists in all human brains but is normally not available to conscious awareness.[11]

It has been suggested that the reason why some people with autism develop savant skills is because it is a response to their impaired social abilities. I.e. due to not being able to understand social interactions innately they have to pay close attention to how people act and build up a reservoir of learned interactions that they can understand and make use of.[citation needed] The way they function therefore predisposes them to a tendency towards analysis and storing information, hence the 'enhanced' memory. What one will often find in people with this condition is that they have difficulty remembering things such as people's names or recognizing people's faces as easily as people without ASD as they may not perceive this to be as important as, for example, the elements in the periodic table. This, however, varies between individuals, and an ASD savant who at a young age were to identify attributing peoples faces to their name as a very important skill to possess would[dubious ] have exceptional[weasel words] skills in this area exceeding that of the ‘normal’ population.[citation needed]

Savant syndrome is six times more frequent in males than females[citation needed], and this difference is not entirely explained by the preponderance of males in the autistic population. This has led to suggestions that the Geschwind–Galaburda hypothesis applies to savant syndrome where both the brain injury and savantism appear to be congenital.[2]

Epidemiology

According to Treffert:[2]

  • One in ten autistic people have savant skills.
  • 50% of savants are autistic; the other 50% often have different disabilities, mental retardation, brain injuries, or brain diseases.
  • Prodigious savants have very little disability.
  • Male savants outnumber female savants 6:1.

A 2009 British study of 137 parents with autistic children found that 28% believed their offspring met the criteria for a savant skill, that is, a skill or power "at a level that would be unusual even for normal people"..[12]

History

According to Treffert, the term idiot savant (French for "learned idiot" or "knowledgeable idiot") was first used to describe the condition in 1887 by John Langdon Down, who is known for his description of Down Syndrome. The term "idiot savant" was later described as a misnomer because not all reported cases fit the definition of idiot, originally used for a person with a very severe mental retardation. The term autistic savant was also used as a diagnosis for this disorder. Like idiot savant, the term autistic savant also became looked at as a misnomer because only one-half of those who were diagnosed at the time with savant syndrome were autistic. Upon realization of the need for accuracy of diagnosis and dignity towards the individual, the term savant syndrome became widely accepted terminology.[2]

Society and culture

Kim Peek was the basis for the 1988 fictional film Rain Man because he was a megasavant.[13]

Savants

A prodigious savant is someone whose skill level would qualify him or her as a prodigy, or exceptional talent, even in the absence of a cognitive disability. Prodigious savants are those individuals whose abilities would be considered phenomenal or genius even in a person without any limitations or special diagnosis of impairment. The most common trait of these prodigious savants is their seemingly limitless mnemonic skills, with many having eidetic or photographic memories. Indeed, prodigious savants are extremely rare, with fewer than one hundred noted in more than a century of literature on the subject. Treffert, the leading researcher in the study of savant syndrome, estimates that fewer than fifty or so such individuals are believed to be alive in the world today. The website of the Wisconsin Medical Society lists 29 savant profiles.[14] Darold Treffert is past-president of the society.

The following are well-known people with savant syndrome, noted for their talent in their identified fields:

References

  1. ^ http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/savant
  2. ^ a b c d e f Treffert DA (2009). "The savant syndrome: an extraordinary condition. A synopsis: past, present, future". Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 364 (1522): 1351–7. doi:10.1098/rstb.2008.0326. PMID 19528017. PMC 2677584. http://www.wisconsinmedicalsociety.org/system/files/savant_article.pdf. Lay summary – Wisconsin Medical Society. 
  3. ^ Heaton P, Wallace GL (July 2004). [Expression error: Unexpected < operator "Annotation: the savant syndrome"]. J Child Psychol Psychiatry 45 (5): 899–911. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.2004.t01-1-00284.x. PMID 15225334. "CONCLUSIONS: We thus conclude that autism (or autistic traits) and savant skills are inextricably linked and we should therefore look to autism in our quest to solve the puzzle of the savant syndrome.". 
  4. ^ McMullen T (December 1991). [Expression error: Unexpected < operator "The savant syndrome and extrasensory perception"]. Psychol Rep 69 (3 Pt 1): 1004–6. doi:10.2466/PR0.69.7.1004-1006. PMID 1784646. "D.A. Treffert, following B. Rimland, cited examples which he states show ESP to be occurring in certain autistic savant children. The evidence is questioned on the ground that it is hearsay, uncorroborated by independent scrutiny.". 
  5. ^ a b "The Boy With The Incredible Brain". http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=4913196365903075662&hl=en&fs=true. Retrieved 2009-03-31. 
  6. ^ Synder, Allan. [1] "Savant-like numerosity skills revealed in normal people by magnetic pulses." "Perception", vol 35, 837-845
  7. ^ Pring L (2005). [Expression error: Unexpected < operator "Savant talent"]. Dev Med Child Neurol 47 (7): 500–3. doi:10.1017/S0012162205000976. PMID 15991873. 
  8. ^ Happé F, Vital P (2009). [Expression error: Unexpected < operator "What aspects of autism predispose to talent?"]. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 364 (1522): 1369–75. doi:10.1098/rstb.2008.0332. PMID 19528019. Lay summary – The Economist (2009-04-16). 
  9. ^ a b Baron-Cohen S, Ashwin E, Ashwin C, Tavassoli T, Chakrabarti B (2009). "Talent in autism: hyper-systemizing, hyper-attention to detail and sensory hypersensitivity" (PDF). Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 364 (1522): 1377–83. doi:10.1098/rstb.2008.0337. PMID 19528020. PMC 2677592. http://autismresearchcentre.com/docs/papers/2009_BC_etal_Talent_RoyalSoc.pdf. Retrieved 2009-06-08. 
  10. ^ Mottron L, Dawson M, Soulières I (2009). [Expression error: Unexpected < operator "Enhanced perception in savant syndrome: patterns, structure and creativity"]. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 364 (1522): 1385–91. doi:10.1098/rstb.2008.0333. PMID 19528021. 
  11. ^ Snyder A (2009). "Explaining and inducing savant skills: privileged access to lower level, less-processed information". Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 364 (1522): 1399–405. doi:10.1098/rstb.2008.0290. PMID 19528023. PMC 2677578. http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/364/1522/1399.full. Lay summary – The Economist (2009-04-16). 
  12. ^ Howlin P, Goode S, Hutton J, Rutter M (2009). [Expression error: Unexpected < operator "Savant skills in autism: psychometric approaches and parental reports"]. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 364 (1522): 1359–67. doi:10.1098/rstb.2008.0328. PMID 19528018. Lay summary – The Economist (2009-04-16). 
  13. ^ Barrowclough, Anne (2009-12-22). "Kim Peek, the original Rain Man, dies". The Times (London). http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article6964730.ece. Retrieved 2010-05-23. 
  14. ^ unknown. "Savant profiles". Wisconsin Medical Society. http://www.wisconsinmedicalsociety.org/savant_syndrome/. Retrieved 2010-07-13. 
  15. ^ Weber B (26 December 2009). "Kim Peek, inspiration for 'Rain Man,' dies at 58". The New York Times. Retrieved 24 January 2010.
  16. ^ Johnson, Richard (2005-02-12). "A genius explains". The Guardian (London). http://www.guardian.co.uk/weekend/story/0,,1409903,00.html. Retrieved 2007-11-08. 
  17. ^ Treffert, Darold. "Alonzo Clemons - Genius Among Us". Wisconsin Medical Society. http://www.wisconsinmedicalsociety.org/savant_syndrome/savant_profiles/alonzo_clemons. Retrieved 2007-11-07. 
  18. ^ Treffert, Darold. "Tony DeBlois - A Prodigious Musical Savant". Wisconsin Medical Society. http://www.wisconsinmedicalsociety.org/savant_syndrome/savant_profiles/tony_deblois. Retrieved 2007-11-07. 
  19. ^ a b Treffert, Darold A. and Gregory L. Wallace (2003). "Islands of Genius" (PDF). Scientific American, Inc. http://www.gordonresearch.com/articles_autism/SciAm-Islands_of_Genius.pdf. Retrieved 2007-11-08. 
  20. ^ Jonathan Lerman:
  21. ^ Treffert, Darold. "Thristan "Tum-Tum" Mendoza - A Child Prodigy Marimbist With Autism from the Philippines". Wisconsin Medical Society. http://www.wisconsinmedicalsociety.org/savant_syndrome/savant_profiles/thristan_mendoza. Retrieved 2007-11-07. 
  22. ^ Derek Paravicini:
  23. ^ James Henry Pullen:
  24. ^ "Matt Savage: The Prodigy", People magazine June 17, 2002
  25. ^ Treffert, Darold. "Matt Savage - A 14-Year-Old Marvelous Musician". Wisconsin Medical Society. http://www.wisconsinmedicalsociety.org/savant_syndrome/savant_profiles/matt_savage. Retrieved 2007-11-07. 
  26. ^ Treffert, Darold. "Henriett Seth F. - Rain Girl". Wisconsin Medical Society. http://www.wisconsinmedicalsociety.org/savant_syndrome/savant_profiles/henriett_seth. Retrieved 2007-11-07. 
  27. ^ "Unlocking the brain's potential". BBC News. 2001-03-10. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/1211299.stm. Retrieved 2007-11-08. 
  28. ^ Horwitz, et al., 1965
  29. ^ Sacks, Oliver, 1985
  30. ^ Tracey Eagan (2009-05-06). "Twin Savants Fixated on Dick Clark". Jezebel. http://jezebel.com/5243027/twin-savants-fixated-on-dick-clark. Retrieved 2009-07-19. 
  31. ^ C-SPAN (2009-11-01). In Depth with Temple Grandin. C-SPAN Video Library, 1 November 2009. Retrieved from http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/id/214625.


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