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Savant syndrome (pronounced /səˈvɑːnt/), sometimes referred to as savantism, is a rare condition in which people with developmental dis...

Savant syndrome (pronounced /səˈvɑːnt/), sometimes referred to as savantism, is a rare condition in which people with developmental disorders have one or more areas of expertise, ability, or brilliance that are in contrast with the individual's overall limitations.

Though it is even rarer than the savant condition itself, some savants have no apparent abnormalities other than their unique abilities. 

This does not mean that these abilities weren't triggered by a brain dysfunction of some sort but does temper the theory that all savants are disabled and that some sort of trade-off is required.


According to Treffert, something that almost all savants have in common is a prodigious memory of a special type, a memory that he describes as "very deep, but exceedingly narrow". 

It is wide in the sense that they can recall but have a hard time putting it to use (for more on this see section on savants in Advanced Memory).

Also, many savants are found to have superior artistic or musical ability.


Savant-like skills may be latent in everyone and have been simulated in unaffected people by directing low-frequency magnetic pulses into the brain's left hemisphere, which is thought to deactivate this dominant region (in at least 90% of right-handed people) and allow the less dominant right hemisphere to take over, allowing for processing of savant-like tasks.


Savant syndrome is poorly understood. 

No widely accepted cognitive theory explains the combination of talent and deficit found in savants.

It has been suggested that individuals with autism are biased towards detail-focused processing and that this cognitive style predisposes both individuals with and without autism to savant talents.

Another hypothesis is that hyper-systemizing predisposes people to show talent, where hyper-systemizing is an extreme state in the empathizing systemizing theory that classifies people based on their skills in empathizing with others versus systemizing facts about the external world, and that the attention to detail shown by many savants is a consequence of enhanced perception or sensory hypersensitivity in individuals with autism.

It has also been suggested that savants operate by directly accessing low-level, less-processed information that exists in all human brains but is normally not available to conscious awareness.


According to Treffert :

One in ten people with autism have savant skills.

50% of savants have autism; the other 50% often have psychological disorders or mental illnesses.

Prodigious savants have very significant disorder and disability, see Richard Wawro, Henriett Seth F., Jonathan Lerman.

A 2.009 British study of 137 parents with autistic children found that 28% believed their offspring met the criteria for a savant skill, that is, a skill or power "at a level that would be unusual even for normal people".

History :

According to Treffert, the term idiot savant (French for "learned idiot" or "knowledgeable idiot") was first used to describe the condition in 1.887 by John Langdon Down, who is known for his description of Down Syndrome. 

The term "idiot savant" was later described as a misnomer because not all reported cases fit the definition of idiot, originally used for a person with a very severe mental retardation. 

The term autistic savant was also used as a diagnosis for this disorder. 

Like idiot savant, the term autistic savant also became looked at as a misnomer because only one-half of those who were diagnosed at the time with savant syndrome had autism. 

Upon realization of the need for accuracy of diagnosis and dignity towards the individual, the term savant syndrome became widely accepted terminology.

Society and culture

The 1.988 fictional film Rain Man was loosely based on Kim Peek among others.

Prodigious savants

A prodigious savant is someone whose skill level would qualify him or her as a prodigy, or exceptional talent, even in the absence of a cognitive disability. 

Prodigious savants are those individuals whose abilities would be considered phenomenal or genius even in a person without any limitations or special diagnosis of impairment. 

The most common trait of these prodigious savants is their seemingly limitless mnemonic skills, with many having eidetic or photographic memories. 

Indeed, prodigious savants are extremely rare, with fewer than one hundred noted in more than a century of literature on the subject. 

Treffert, the leading researcher in the study of savant syndrome, estimates that fewer than fifty or so such individuals are believed to be alive in the world today. 

The website of the Wisconsin Medical Society lists 29 savant profiles.

Darold Treffert is past-president of the society.

Notable savants

The following are well-known people with savant syndrome, noted for their talent in their identified fields :

Kim Peek, mnemonist, speed reader and calculator, although not autistic.

Mark Boerebach, Australian internet dj, subject of the documentary Rainman goes to Rockwiz.

Alonzo Clemons, American clay sculptor.

Tony DeBlois, blind American musician.

Leslie Lemke, blind American musician.

Jonathan Lerman, American artist.

Thristan Mendoza, Filipino marimba prodigy.

Gottfried Mind, Swiss artist known as the "Raphael of Cats".

Derek Paravicini, blind British musician.

Anthony Torrone, American Christian writer.

Gilles Tréhin, artist, author.

James Henry Pullen, gifted British carpenter.

Matt Savage, American autistic jazz prodigy.

Henriett Seth F., Hungarian autistic savant, poet, writer and artist.

Stephen Wiltshire, British architectural artist.

Richard Wawro, British artist.

George and Charles Finn, calendar calculator twins.

Florence 'Flo' and Katherine 'Kay' Lyman, calendar calculator twins. Featured in a documentary produced by TV network TLC entitled Twin Savants: Flo & Kay.

Derek Amato, American pianist and singer.

Temple Grandin, Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University, and consultant to the livestock industry in animal behavior.

Jason D. Padgett, American Mathematical Artist.

Daniel Tammet, British author, public speaker, high-functioning autistic savant, and synesthete.