The Savant

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Talented savants are those in whom musical, art or other special abilities are more conspicuous not only in contrast to individual limitations, but also in contrast to peer group abilities whether disabled or not. In , Minogue reported a case in which musical genius appeared in a 3-year old child following meningitis. Z, who demonstrated savant mechanical skills and traits at age 9 after a bullet wound to the left brain produced muteness, deafness and left-sided paralysis, but precipitated the newly surfaced savant skills.

These instances raise many interesting questions about dormant capacity within us all, and raise the even more challenging question of how to tap those buried abilities without enduring some CNS catastrophe. I discuss these cases in much more detail on the savant syndrome website at www. There have been many theories put forth to try to explain savant syndrome ranging from early heredity theories to present day Quantum theory.

Genetic memory—the genetic transfer of knowledge and skills—in my view accounts for the already stored dormant capacity tapped by the recruitment, rewiring and release. I address genetic memory much more fully in Islands of Genius as well, and on the savant syndrome website at www.

But there is one other important element in the complex equation that is the savant. That is the role of the family or other caregivers, teachers or mentors in first discovering the special gift in the savant, then tenderly nurturing and encouraging that gift, and supporting and reinforcing it by praise coupled with copious unconditional love. Love is a good therapist too. There are many scientific mysteries still about savant syndrome. But two are especially intriguing. Then, in the s, Blind Tom was an international celebrity with prodigious musical ability and a number of present-day savant musicians including Leslie, Derek, Rex, Ellen, Tony, Eddie, Brittany and Kodi, to name only some, attest to the frequency of this triad.

So common is this association between impaired vision and musical genius that Adam Ockelford has established a special school in London called SoundScape specifically tailored for persons with visual impairment and musical abilities. In his Focus on Music series, Ockelford at the University of London and the Royal National Institute of Blind People is carrying out studies on those types of blindness especially correlated with these musical abilities. A second mystery is why calendar calculating, an obscure skill in neurotypical persons, is seemingly almost universally present in persons with savant syndrome.

And yes, if any person puts his or her mind to it, he or she can learn laboriously how to calendar calculate. Why calendar calculating? And why is that so prominent in savant syndrome but generally not seen in other brain diseases or disorders? Some observers, while extolling the eidetic-like ability and memory of savants, point out that in contrast to such astonishing imitative ability, savants as a group are not very creative. In fact, I was one of those observers who wrote just that in the original version of Extraordinary People: Understanding Savant Syndrome. I was wrong and have corrected that perception in my later writings.

What changed my mind? Additional years of observation. Let me expand on that, using Leslie Lemke as an example. When I first met Leslie in his ability to store and replicate music, even after only a single hearing, was spectacular. After several more years of contact with Leslie, however, I began to notice that some improvisational skills were developing. At a concert in Neenah, Wis.

But toward the end of the piece he began to look a bit restless and seemed more excited and more eager to play.

4 Personality Types For Success At Work: The Savant

The piece had a huge ending. Leslie loves huge endings. The audience loved and appreciated that wonderful improvisation, judging from the applause. Several years later Mary Parker told me that Leslie was composing some of his own songs. Some that he played and sang for me sounded fairly familiar though, although the words were new. As time went on, however, his songs were more original and truly new.

Each time I see Leslie now he plays and sings new songs, and they are original. Leslie is creating. I have seen the same sequence in other savants, whether musicians or artists. Then some improvisation begins to appear—a telephone pole deleted here, or a new tree there different from the original.


Next may come some free-form or entirely new creation in some manner or other. One can see that sequence of literal copying to improvisation to free-form creation in the works of Stephen Wiltshire. Matt Savage has traversed that same route from early literal play back, to jazz improvisation, to creation of his own jazz pieces. One musical savant, Hikari Oe, has composed a number of beautiful pieces for several CDs that have been internationally distributed. Interestingly, Hikari prefers composing to performing, which is just the opposite of most musical savants.

So the savant can be creative.

NOVA - Official Website | Mystery of the Savant Brain

Some savants prefer to stay with replication, but many have gone beyond literal copying, as stunning as that can be, to improvisation and then creation of something entirely new. These clinical impressions regarding creativity in the savant have been bolstered by several formal research projects. Similarly, on tests of musical competence—timing, balance and complexity—the savants with a mean IQ of 59 were also superior to the control group.

Hermelin and her coworkers indicated this study was consistent with earlier findings—that a series of separate intelligences, of which music is but one, exist in each person rather than a single, consistent intelligence that permeates all the skills and abilities of each person. With respect to music, they concluded that savants were able to show some creativity and improvisation in addition to mimicry.

In summary, savants can be creative. Most savants travel along a route of first replication , then improvisation , and finally creation. As we learn more about the brain from the study of savants, we may also learn much more about talent and creativity itself. That is my hope, and one of my objectives.


In , Dr. Lorna Selfe described the case of Nadia, a prolific childhood artist, whose special abilities disappeared after she was sent away to school to increase language acquisition, socialization abilities and daily living skills. She also started to draw like an infant so that, for a period, two styles coexisted and sometimes on the same piece of paper. Gradually and inexorably she lost the ability to draw realistically. She is now middle-aged and lives in a specialist care home but for many years she has simply refused to draw. She is in the safe and competent hands of dedicated staff who devote themselves to the care of people who are unable to look after themselves.

The good news is that such a fear is, in my experience, unfounded and should not prevent presenting the savant with more formal education and training within his or her area of specialty, as well as in a more general educational sense. That being the case, parents and teachers can continue not only to applaud and reinforce the special skills as they surface, but can confidently add teaching and training in a more formal sense as well without fear of loss of talent, ingenuity or enthusiasm on the part of the savant.

Not true.

Extraordinary People: The Savant Syndrome - Darold A. Treffert, M.D.

While it is true that most savants have measured IQs between 50 and 70, in some instances IQ can be as high as , or even higher. One reason that many savants, or many autistic persons for that matter, have IQ scores below 70 is that IQ measurement depends so heavily on verbal scales, and many autistic individuals, including those with savant syndrome, have language verbal deficits as an intrinsic part of the underlying disorder.

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But my work with savants has convinced me, at least, that the concept of multiple intelligences is a valid one. And the existence of multiple intelligences has profound implications not just for better understanding and approaching savant syndrome, but also for implementing more effective, individualized and targeted education efforts for all segments of the population. Leslie Lemke provides an example of how misleading IQ levels can be as a single measure of intelligence. Leslie has a measured IQ of 58 on the WAIS-R test, based solely on verbal scores; performance tests were not done because such testing relies heavily on vision and Leslie is blind.

By looking at the scores on these tests as a whole, the neuropsychologist concluded Leslie was functioning in the moderately retarded range of intelligence, defined as an IQ level between 35 and But I have a videotape of a concert Leslie gave in Texas that belies that low level of intelligence overall. At this particular concert Leslie was asked to play a piece he had never heard before with the other pianist, rather than waiting for the piece to conclude and then play it back after hearing it as he usually does.

The other pianist began playing. Leslie waited about three seconds and then did indeed play the piece with the other pianist, separated only by those three seconds. In that three-second delay, Leslie was taking in what he heard, processing it, and simultaneously outputting the music as he played along with the other pianist. Leslie was parallel processing. That would not be possible if the IQ level of 35 to 55 was an accurate barometer of his overall intelligence.

Names such as Einstein, Rembrandt, Mozart and many others are bandied about in such discussions. Retrospective medical diagnoses are always problematical and suspect. And then there are present-day prodigies and geniuses. Some outrageously bright, but not autistic children have composed multiple symphonies by age 7, or have mastered instruments, sometimes multiple instruments, by age 3.

Others show astonishing artistic, mathematical, prose or poetry skills well beyond their years.


If children, we call them prodigies. They are neither autistic, nor Aspergers. If adults, we call them geniuses. Prodigies and geniuses have special, spectacular abilities in absence of any underlying disability. The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right name. Among those many inquiries are children who read early hyperlexia or speak late Einstein Syndrome.

Some neurotypical children simply read early. They may be reading, instead of the teacher, to their nursery school class, or reading at a 7 th grade level at age 3, for example. There are no associated autistic or autistic-like traits or behaviors. Eventually their classmates catch up with reading skills, but in the meantime the advanced, precocious reading ability at such an early age draws considerable attention. I refer to this type of early reading ability as Hyperlexia I.

These children read voraciously along with astonishing memory for what they read. Log out of Readcube. Click on an option below to access. Log out of ReadCube. Background: Whilst interest has focused on the origin and nature of the savant syndrome for over a century, it is only within the past two decades that empirical group studies have been carried out.