Savant Syndrome

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Imagine being able to do any math calculation in your head or being able to sit down at the piano and play any song you want; but not being able to take care of yourself. This is the often the reality for someone with Savant Syndrome. This condition is both an amazing talent, the possibilities for the people who have it are truly endless, but it is also a large burden on both the Savant and their family.

What is Savant Syndrome?

Dr. Treffert of the Wisconsin medical society perfectly summarizes this condition. He says “savant syndrome is a rare but extraordinary condition in which persons with serious mental disabilities have some “island of genius” which stands in marked contrast to the overall handicap.” Savants usually have an IQ around 40 (with 70 being mentally handicapped and 100 being average) but have the ability to do amazing things. Their “island of Genius” is just that though; an island. Their skills are amazingly specific and narrow.

Types of Savants

There are three different types of savants as described by Dr. Treffert. The first is called splinter skills. This is the most common and most often involves memorization behaviors. Examples of this are people called “calendar calculators”, they can calculate the day of the week for any date in the past. The next group is called talented savants; this consists of savants that are exceptional in music, artistic or mathematical skills. The final and most often publicized type is the prodigious savant. This is defined by having abilities or talents that would considered spectacular even for non-handicapped people. Examples of the talents they might have are concert pianist, physicist, and human calculators.

The causes of savant syndrome

The causes of savant syndrome are largely a mystery although there are several theories. Most theories revolve around a genetic connection but the most highly regarded is that savant syndrome is caused by brain damage to the left side of the brain while the right remains unharmed (Ploeger). There are two ways to acquire the conditions: congenitally and acquired. Congenitally just means that it was acquired before birth. This is by far the most common type; they have great attention to detail and an obsessive preoccupation with one specific interest. Although it is possible to acquire the condition after birth it is extremely rare.

Autism and Savant syndrome

Savant syndrome is most often associated with autism but the two are not inseparable. Although it is true that one in every ten autistic children have some sort of savant skills, autism as a whole only makes up approximately 50% of all Savants. Many other mental disabilities are also capable of producing savants. 

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