• 19Jul

    What is Savant syndrome?

    Savants are people with exceptional talents despite serious mental and physical disability and are described to have some ‘islands of genius’. It occurs in males more frequently than in females in a ratio of 6 to 1. This condition is very rarely seen. These people have extraordinary memory with a poor reasoning ability. This condition has a strong association with autism but all savants are not autistic. The occurrence of Savant syndrome can be congenital or be acquired during life following a brain injury or disease. Studies have demonstrated that about 50% of savants have features of autism; and the remaining 50% are related to developmental disabilities and injuries to left fronto-parietal region of brain. In cases with autism, 10% have abilities of a savant. 

    Mechanism of occurrence

    The exact cause of a savant syndrome is not known. A lot of hypotheses have been proposed. Some researchers believe that there is damage to the left hemisphere of brain, which results in compensatory changes in the right side of brain. The special skills are a function of right hemisphere of brain. Magnetic resonance angiography has shown an absence of corpus callosum, part of the brain which connects the two hemispheres of brain.

    Savant Skills

    Savant skills occur within a particular range of human mental functions. In some cases a specific skill might exist, while in others there may be several skills that co-exist simultaneously. They involve considerable storage of memory. An important observation is that the skills tend to be right brain oriented, like non-symbolic and artistic. Savants are noticed by expression of their special abilities, and they like doing it repeatedly.

    Savant syndrome occurs more frequently in males than in females.

    Savant syndrome occurs more frequently in males than in females.

    The skills can appear suddenly, without explanation, and sometimes disappearing just as suddenly. Based on the presence of skills possessed by savants, they are classified into three categories:

    • Splinter Skills: The individual possesses specific skills that stand in contrast to their overall level of functioning.
    • Talented Savants: The individual displays a high level of ability that is in contrast to their disability.
    • Prodigious Savants: It’s a much rarer form of the condition, where the ability or brilliance is not only spectacular in contrast to the disability, but would be spectacular even if compared to a non-disabled person. There are about 100 odd cases reported in the world literature, and many cases go unreported or undetected.

    Some of the skills are described below:

    Memorization – Their memory power is tremendous. There are cases of savants who have memorized population statistics, telephone books, bus schedules and even 9 volumes of Grove’s Dictionary.

    Lightening calculation – They have an extraordinary speed in mathematical calculations. This is exhibited in the instantaneous calculation of multiplications or square roots.

    Calendar or date calculations – They can instantly tell the day of the week on a particular date, any time in the last, or next, decade.

     Musical ability – They can play any music perfectly after hearing it only once. They have the capability to reproduce the perfect pitch or note. This is a relatively common savant skill.

    Artistic ability – Some savants have exceptional sculpting, drawing or painting capabilities.

    Language ability – This is rare, and was seen in a case that could read, write and translate 15 to 20 languages.

    Savant syndrome is a rare syndrome in which people with poor mental development or brain injury possess extraordinary mental skills which are difficult to explain scientifically. Sometimes the talents of a savant may go unnoticed. The identification of these special skills and their proper channelization may help in some useful contribution to the environment. Their abilities draw attention because they appear magical or god’s gift. They should be trained towards improving socialization, communication and self-esteem.

    Anna L.

    It’s all about health!
    I have academic background in drugs related Chemical Technology, as well as extensive professional experience in pharma and medical companies. My main area of interest is everyday life medicine. The goal of my articles is to give people informative answers to the questions that bother them, to dispel doubts and some common misbeliefs and also to inspire everyone to keep healthy lifestyle.

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