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What is an Autistic Savant?

Almost everyone remembers Raymond from the 1980s movie Rain Man and his extraordinary abilities to remember details and count things. Raymond was an autistic savant, which is an autistic individual with incredible abilities and powers – powers so extraordinary that they almost seem unbelievable, especially considering they’re often found in individuals who are otherwise disabled. Does this mean that an individual describes as a savant automatically has autism? Not necessarily.

What is a Savant?

 A savant is an individual who has been diagnosed with savant syndrome. At one time, savant syndrome was referred to as “idiot savant” according to a doctor at the University of Wisconsin Medical School. This was because savant syndrome was typically found in people suffering from serious mental disabilities, one of which was Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

 A savant is someone who has extraordinary abilities in a specific area despite having disabilities in other areas. For instance, a savant may have serious mental challenges but may be able to remember every little detail about a book he or she read. Such was the case with Raymond from Rain Man. The movie may have been fiction, but the details about savant syndrome are very real.

 Some savants are excellent with numbers while others may excel in music or have an exceptional memory. They may be autistic, but it’s not always the case. Although savant system may occur in patients with certain conditions such as central nervous system injuries or developmental disabilities, the Wisconsin Medical Society states that about one in every 10 autistic individuals have some type of savant. When an individual has savant skills, they never lose them even if some of their other conditions increase or decrease.

Types of Savants

Savant syndrome may affect an individual in a variety of different ways. The individual may have one specific set of skills or a couple of different extraordinary skills. Here are some types of savants or the skills they may possess.

  • Music – The ability to perform music flawlessly is the most common savant skill. It’s not unusual for a savant person to be able to play piano by ear and with perfection. They may also possess exceptional composing skills despite not being taught.
  • Artistic Skills – The ability to draw or paint exceptionally well is very common with savant individuals. They may also be very good with sculpting.
  • Mechanical Skills – Mechanical ability may show itself in other ways, such as calculating lightning, putting together mechanical parts quickly and computing distance right to the mile. A savant individual may also be able to computer double-digit numbers and still not know simple arithmetic.
  • Calendar Calculating – This is very common among individuals with savant syndrome. They’re able to name any day of the week of any year or tell you day a certain holiday will fall in any given year.

Additional skills may be seen in savant individuals. Some may possess unbelievable sensory discrimination in touch or smell or a great appreciation of time passing despite not looking at a clock. They may also possess very strong bilingual abilities for no apparent reason.

Although in most cases, the savant individual will possess one of these skills, that’s not always the case. The person may possess multiple skills. Regardless of what type of skill the savant person possesses, it’s always combined with a remarkable memory.

Does Savant Mean Autism?

The fact that not all savants are autistic is proof that they do not automatically go together. An autistic individual may be born with savant skills or may develop them later in life; it’s not guaranteed just because they’re autistic. Although there are many people with autism, savant syndrome is very rare. In fact, a person may be autistic and may possess some special skills but still may not be classified a savant. 

People with severe mental disabilities may also have savant skills. Neither autism nor savant syndrome affects the genders equally. For every six savants, only one of them is female. In most cases, individuals who appear to be savant should be seen by a specialist whether the individual has autism spectrum disorder or not.



Disclaimer: This content was not written by a medical professional and is not intended to be used as diagnostic or medical advice.