Savants have always been interesting to the scientific community because of their ability to overcome so many odds. The large majority of savants struggle with some form of mental handicap may it be social or intellectual. Yet, despite these struggles most savants reach a level of genius and expertise far beyond what is considered normal human capacity. One savant that we all probably have at least heard of is Rain Man, who was inspired by a real life savant Mr. Kim Peak who sadly died in 2009.
The different kinds of Savant syndrome can be categorised as Splinter Skills, Talented Savants and Prodigious Savants. Splinter skills is when a person has specific skills that stand out compared to their normal level of functioning (Hiles, 2002). Talented savants is when the individual has a high level of ability compared to a disability, and prodigious savants, the rarest of them all, is when a person has a level of brilliance not only compared to their normal functioning but compared to human capacity (ibid). It is important to note that that even though Savant syndrome is the official name, it is not considered a disorder by either DSM-IV-IR or ICD-10.
In the news recently is Stephen Wilshire, another autistic Savant. Stephen Wilshire (2013) spent his childhood as a mute, not speaking until around the age of 9. He pretty much relied on his artwork to communicate with anyone, even his family. Today, however, Wiltshire has risen above his handicaps, and now owns his own gallery in in London’s Royal Opera Arcade that feature his amazing artwork. What draws people to his artwork, however, is not just his admirable artistic talent but also his incredible memory for fine detail. Wiltshire is able to draw the most incredible architectural detail having only seen the building for a couple of seconds. An incredible YouTube video shows Wiltshire flying over Rome in a helicopter just once to then return to a studio and draw an awe-inspiringly accurate panorama of the beautiful city.
The Twins, two brothers featured in Oliver Sack’s 1985 book The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, were both severely handicapped with an IQ of 60. Despite being terribly bad at simple calculations and the basic concepts of multiplication and division, the brothers were still able to communicated with each other through numbers. Even more astounding was their ability to memorize 300 figure digits, knowing if a number up to 20 digits was prime, and to know any day of the week 40 thousand years into the past and future!
Lastly, Daniel Tammet is an autistic, prodigious savant known to most of the world for the week it took him to learn Icelandic. Despite being socially handicapped, he is considered gifted in mathematics and language learning, holding the European record for reciting the digits of pi. Unlike the other three, Tammet is considering high-functioning on the autistic spectrum, but despite this his incredible mathematical and linguistic ability is far more advanced that normal. Professor Alan Synder of the Australian National Universtiy compared Tammet to the Rosetta Stone because unlike Savants, he is able to explain the processes going on his brain and mnemonic devices he implements. Research conducted by Cambridge Professor Simon Baron-Cohen et al. in 2005 discovered that Tammet has synesthesia and incredible short-term memory. Baron-Cohen et al. suggests that the combination of his synesthesia, incredible short-term memory, Asperger’s and his use of mnemonic strategies is what enables him to have such an immense capacity for learning.
NICHOLSON, R. (2013). Referencing and citation – Harvard style, from PSY106 Memory, Skill and Everyday Life. University of Sheffield, Richard Roberts Building on 6th March. Available from: Blackboard.