Savant Syndrome is one of the most fascinating studies. Savant Syndrome (once called Idiot Savant Syndrome) is actually a quite amazing syndrome that no one has really had much luck at explaining. This is a rare cognitive anomaly that has never really been understood.
Observations and Statistics
In some cases of identifiable Savant behavior the abilities show up out of no where and disappear just as suddenly. There has been about 100 cases over the last 100 years of Prodigious Savant’s that have mastered certain amazing abilities than just lost them without any indication as to why they were lost. In all of the 100 cases recorded there was no improvement in the underlying disability, there was no medicinal changes, no change in therapies. The ability was there one day and gone the next. In many cases of Savant Syndrome the abilities DO NOT disappear even when the disability improves as a matter of fact with constant practice the ability itself can improve. In several well documented cases what started as a replication ability transformed over time into a creative ability. Several cases have documented where an individual was able to replicate a complicated musical piece that they heard one time and over time compose their own complicated pieces. Other Savants have shown creative abilities when it comes to art work. There does not seem to be any one constant among Savants.
Autism is often associated with Savant Syndrome. It is estimated that 1 in 500 people are Autistic with males being 4 times more likely to show the symptoms of autism. It is also true that of the recorded Savant Syndrome cases the ratio of male to female is 1 in 6 however of the recorded cases of Savant Syndrome 50% have occurred in persons with Autism. The association between the two is strong but it is not a causal relationship. Some studies have indicated that as many as 1 in 10 people that are autistic also show some Savant skills.
The other 50% of the Savant Syndrome cases are found in people with CNS and other disabilities. There are many cases of adults that have led “normal” lives up to a traumatic brain injury that left them disabled that developed Savant Syndrome which dispels the rumors that Savant Syndrome simply compensates for brain damage at birth.
Overview of Savant Syndrome
Dr. Langdon Down ( the doctor that coined the phrase Down Syndrome) is credited with first noticing and coining the term Idiot Savant in modern times to describe a patient that had what seemed to be a very low grade of intelligence but had extraordinary abilities. Idiot was the common term of the time that was used to designate a person with an IQ below 25 (it was 1887).
While Dr. Down is credited with doing a great deal of work in the area the syndrome was recorded many years before in literature that appeared in a German psychology journal in 1783. It is very likely that Savant Syndrome has been a part of humanity since the beginning of time.
Savant Syndrome is extremely rare which makes it all the more interesting. It can occur in people that are mentally handicapped, that suffer from cognitive impairments due to injuries and it can occur in people that are considered Autistic.
It is a random “ability” that does not seem to have much rhyme or reason. In other words it is the luck of the draw and there is no one key piece of evidence or one specific disorder that has been shown to promote the ability in Savants.
The only common ground is actually the ability. According to published studies it seems that Savants have one thing in common their ability stems from an extraordinary ability to remember things. Whether it is musical, mathematical, language or the ability to remember dates times etc of events they all rely on their memory to fuel their ability.
The Three Types of Savants
For study purposes there has been a categorical approach. There are three main categories of Savants. Splinter Skills, Prodigious Savants and Talented Savants. Prodigious Savants are among the most rare. Prodigious Savants are Savants that have not only amazing abilities in comparison to their disability but that would be considered amazing even if they were not disabled.
Splinter Skill Savants possess skills that are in direct contrast with their disabilities. Talented Savants display a high level of ability that is in contrast to a disability. The abilities are further categorized as:
• Musical (the most common Savant skill although still quite unexpected)
• Calculations (very fast) of numbers
• Calendar calculations (can give dates of specific events, times, places etc)
• Artistic Ability ( not quite as common as music ability)
Savant Syndrome does not fall short when it comes to theories however there is agreement that no single theory can explain all Savants because there is such a tremendous range.