Savant syndrome

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Savant syndrome, sometimes abbreviated as savantism, is not a recognized medical diagnosis, but researcher Darold Treffert defines it as a rare condition in which persons with developmental disorders (including autism spectrum disorders) have one or more areas of expertise, ability or brilliance that are in contrast with the individual's overall limitations.[1] Treffert says the condition can be genetic, but can also be acquired,[1] and coexists with other developmental disabilities "such as mental retardation or brain injury or disease that occurs before (pre-natal) during (peri-natal) or after birth (post-natal), or even later in childhood or adult life."[1]

Individuals with the syndrome are often simply called savants. This can be a source of confusion since savant can also mean a person of learning, especially one of great knowledge in a particular subject. The terms idiot savant or autistic savant are also used. "Idiot" was used by the medical profession in the late 19th and early 20th century to refer to a person whose IQ was less than 20, although that usage has now given way to "profound mental retardation"; the term idiot savant is no longer regarded as a valid medical term.[1]

According to Treffert, about half of 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 savants are autistic, and not all autistic persons are savants."[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]

Characteristics

According to Treffert, something that almost all savants have in common is a remarkable memory:[1] a memory that he describes as "exceedingly deep but very, very narrow".[1]

Savant-like skills may be latent in everyone.[4] Allan Snyder attempted to simulate savant impairment in normal controls by "directing low-frequency magnetic pulses into the left fronto-temporal lobe" of the brain. Differences were observed in four of 11 subjects.[4]

An autistic savant (historically described as an idiot savant) is a person with both autism and savant skills. Autistic savants may have mental abilities called splinter skills.[1] 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 brain). Many savants are known to have abnormalities in the left hemisphere of the brain.[5]

Causes and pathophysiology

The Savant Syndrome is poorly understood. There is no cognitive theory that explains the combination of talent and deficit found in savants [6]

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

The vast majority of savants are born savants, there are also cases in which an individual gains savant status in later life due to a brain injury.[citation needed] Examples of these rare occurrences are; Orlando Serrell who was hit by a baseball on the left side of the head at age 10 in 1979. After the accident he developed calendar calculating skills and an autobiographical memory.[citation needed]

Epidemiology

According to Treffert:[1]

  • 10% of people on the autistic spectrum have savant skills
  • Less than 1% of persons with other developmental disabilities have savant skills
  • 50% of savants are autistic; the other 50% have different disabilities, mental retardation, brain injury or a brain disease
  • Male savants outnumber female savants by four to six times.

History

According to Treffert, the term idiot savant was first used to describe the condition in 1887 by Dr. John Langdon Down, who is known for his description of Down Syndrome.[1]

Working in an institution for people with mental illness, he was stunned by the occasional "idiot savant" he would come across. There are accounts of him meeting a boy who after reading a book once could recite it back perfectly, another who could do considerably large mental calculations faster than someone could write them down on paper, and a savant who could calculate time with near perfect accuracy without looking at a clock. In that time period it was a mystery to scientists and psychologists alike how genius can be mixed with disability. Today much more is known about savants, but it has been only within the past 20 years that the mystery of savants has begun to unravel.[citation needed]

Society and culture

Kim Peek was the basis for the 1988 fictional film Rain Man,[7][8] although his diagnosis is no longer autism.[9]

Famous prodigious savants

There are only about 100 recognized prodigious savants in the world.[10]

References

  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 Treffert, Darold. "Savant syndrome: Frequently asked questions". Wisconsin Medical Society. Retrieved 2008-03-27.
  2. Heaton P, Wallace GL (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. Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help)
  3. McMullen T (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. Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help)
  4. 4.0 4.1 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. doi:10.1142/S0219635203000287. PMID 15011267. Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help)
  5. Treffert, D.A. & Christensen, D.D. (2005). "Inside the Mind of a Savant", Scientific American, 293(6).
  6. Pring L (2005). "Savant talent". Dev Med Child Neurol. 47 (7): 500–3. doi:10.1017/S0012162205000976. PMID 15991873.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Treffert, Darold A. and Gregory L. Wallace (2003). "Islands of Genius" (PDF). Scientific American, Inc. Retrieved 2007-11-08.
  8. "NASA Studying 'Rain Man's' Brain". Space.com. November 8, 2004. Retrieved 2007-09-14. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  9. Wulff, Jane (November 2006). "Kim Peek and Fran Peek: 'I am important to know you'" (PDF). Multnomah Education Service District. Retrieved 2007-09-18.
  10. Martin, D (September 18, 2006). "Savants: Charting Islands of Genius". CNN Health. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  11. Treffert, Darold. "Alonzo Clemons - Genius Among Us". Wisconsin Medical Society. Retrieved 2007-11-07.
  12. Treffert, Darold. "Tony DeBlois - A Prodigious Musical Savant". Wisconsin Medical Society. Retrieved 2007-11-07.
  13. Jonathan Lerman:
  14. Treffert, Darold. "Thristan "Tum-Tum" Mendoza - A Child Prodigy Marimbist With Autism from the Philippines". Wisconsin Medical Society. Retrieved 2007-11-07.
  15. Derek Paravicini:
  16. James Henry Pullen:
  17. Matt Savage:
  18. Treffert, Darold. "Henriett Seth F. - Rain Girl". Wisconsin Medical Society. Retrieved 2007-11-07.
  19. Johnson, Richard (February 12, 2005). "A genius explains". The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-11-08. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  20. "Unlocking the brain's potential". BBC News. 10 March, 2001. Retrieved 2007-11-08. Check date values in: |date= (help)

Further reading

  • Heaton P, Wallace GL (2004). "Annotation: The savant syndrome." Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry (journal)|Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry 45 (5): 899–911. PMID PMID 15225334 doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.2004.t01-1-00284.x
  • Hou C, Miller BL, Cummings JL; et al. (2000). "Artistic savants". Neuropsychiatry Neuropsychol Behav Neurol. 13 (1): 29–38. PMID 10645734.
  • Miller LK (1998). "Defining the Savant Syndrome". Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities. 10 (1): 73–85. doi:10.1023/A:1022813601762.
  • Miller LK (1999). "The savant syndrome: intellectual impairment and exceptional skill". Psychol Bull. 125 (1): 31–46. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.125.1.31. PMID 9990844. Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help)
  • Nettelbeck T, Young R (1996). "Intelligence and savant syndrome: Is the whole greater than the sum of the fragments?". Intelligence. 22 (1): 49–68. doi:10.1016/S0160-2896(96)90020-3.
  • Ockelford A, Pring L (2005). "Learning and creativity in a prodigious musical savant". Int Congr Ser. 1282: 903–7. doi:10.1016/j.ics.2005.05.051.
  • 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.
  • Pring L (2005). "Savant talent". Dev Med Child Neurol. 47 (7): 500–3. doi:10.1017/S0012162205000976. PMID 15991873.
  • Saloviita T, Ruusila L, Ruusila U (2000). "Incidence of savant syndrome in Finland". Percept Mot Skills. 91 (1): 120–2. doi:10.2466/PMS.91.5.120-122. PMID 11011882.
  • 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. doi:10.1142/S0219635203000287. 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, Christensen DD (2005). "Inside the mind of a savant". Sci Am. 293 (6): 108–13. PMID 16323698.
  • Treffert DA (2000). Extraordinary People, Bantam Press, London. ISBN 0593016734
  • Treffert DA (1988). "The idiot savant: a review of the syndrome". Am J Psychiatry. 145 (5): 563–72. PMID 3282450.
  • Treffert DA. "Savant Syndrome: Recent Research, Results and Resources (1999)". Wisconsin Medical Society. Retrieved 2008-03-27.
  • Young R (2005). "Neurobiology of savant syndrome". In Stough C (ed.). Neurobiology of Exceptionality. doi:10.1007/0-306-48649-0_8. ISBN 978-0-306-48476-6.

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