The Savant Syndrome

The Savant Syndrome

The Savant Syndrome

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Showing posts with label Robert Gagno. Show all posts

Robert Gagno

Robert Gagno is an autistic young man who may never live independently from his parents, but he has an incredible talent : he's one of the top-ranked pinball players in the world.

Robert's brain seems hard-wired for pinball wizardry: intense concentration and focus, the ability to almost instantly recognize the impetus, trajectory and velocity of the ball, and an incredible memory that allows him to memorize shot patterns and rack up huge scores.

Robert and his father head to the Mayo Clinic to meet with a leading neurologist to see what makes Robert's brain unique. 

However, it's a visual processing test that presents the biggest clue as to why Robert is such a gifted pinball player.

Robert is tall and rail-thin, with tousled brown curls, oval-framed glasses, and great big sapphires for eyes. 

When he's playing pinball, which is most of the time, those eyes bug out in a state of twitchy hyper-alertness. 

At other moments, like when he has to meet a stranger, they quickly make for the ground.

Robert is also autistic, which helps explain the lack of eye contact and why he wouldn't have offered his hand for a shake had he not been reminded to do so by his mother and father, Kathy and Maurizio, who, as both parents and pinball competitors, are usually right by his side. 

Moreover, Robert is a savant, which helps to explain why at 22 he's the top-ranked player in the league. 

He's also tops in a league in his hometown of Vancouver, B.C. In a sport where the elite have been playing for decades, Robert is something of a prodigy.

Just two years ago, on a whim, Maurizio signed up Robert for the Canadian World Championships, his son's first competitive tournament. 

"I had to go to Toronto for business anyway," Maurizio says. "So I figured 'What the heck?'"

"What the heck" turned into a 12th-place finish. 

Shortly thereafter, the people responsible for ranking pinballers decreed that this impressive debut meant that there were only 3,722 players in the whole world better at pinball than Robert. 

Today there are 22.

So is the secret to Robert's meteoric rise just practice? 

Talent? Or, as some have suggested, something beyond his control? 

Whatever it is, it'll have to wait, because shortly after the handshake, Robert spins on his heels and marches back into the house with a slightly herky-jerky gait that will soon become familiar.

Robert delicately nudges a button so that a ball jumps from one flipper to the other, an advanced technique known as an alley pass. 

Now he's not just playing pinball, he's juggling too. 

The look on Robert's face is something between a smile and "Oh my God, they're removing my fingernail without anesthetic!" 

As he plays, three guys stride up. 

One of them has a clipboard. "Aw, man, he's still going," he says. 

A few minutes later the last ball goes down.

"Is that a good score?" asks Kathy.

"Yes," answers Robert, one arm flung up and behind his head as if he were patting himself on the back.

"But you used to hate this game."