Savantism: the Other side of Autism

Savantism: the Other side of AutismEvery now and then, a person is born with a mental disability; autism, for example. However, in incredibly rare cases, a person who is born with mental disabilities also demonstrates profound abilities in comparison to what would be considered normal. These people are called “savants.”

Savants usually handicapped in an ability to perform some kind of simple task, like walking or socializing, have the extraordinary ability to use their brain in cognitive capacities that exceed most other people in the world. There’s a catch though, they may have extensive ability in something, but lack in something else. “Deep and narrow” would be an accurate description of a savant’s abilities. Autistic people make up the majority of savants; however, some savants may be people with brain injury as well. Interestingly though, almost 10% of all people with autism shows demonstrates some form of savantism.

If it isn’t really clear to you yet, you should watch the movie with Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise named, Rain Man. The movie accurately portrays what a savant acts like, including their skills and disabilities. If you’ve already seen the movie, though, here’s one fun fact for you: Dustin Hoffman’s character was actually inspired by the amazing skills of real-life savant, Kim Peek.

Kim Peek demonstrates extremely unique memory that many of his friends call him “Kim-puter.” In fact, he’s able to pull anything from his mental library as quick as types into Google and presses “search.” Kim began memorizing books as young as when he was 2, and has already memorized 9,000 books – a number that climbs every day.  Apparently, he’s able to read a page in 8-10 seconds, and it is immediately stored in his head. When asked a question from a book he’s read, he’ll be able to answer your question, tell you in what line of what page of what chapter the answer is located, and he’ll even quote it word-for-word. What’s most brilliant is the fact that Kim is apparently learning a new skill in his mid-age – whereas he was only able to talk about music, he’s now able to play it, and well.

Imaging studies of his brain has shown that the cause of all this is that Kim has suffered from developmental abnormalities with his cerebellum and a lack of a corpus callosum. These parts of the brain respectively coordinate movements and thoughts and connect the left and right hemispheres of the brain. Thus, Kim is unable to perform certain basic functions like buttoning his shirt, managing chores, and walking normally. However, against these disabilities, his talents shine much, much brighter.

Why are Savants brilliant as they are, though, when they have a lack, and not a surplus, of something in their brain, though? That is something that is yet to be discovered. Our brains are capable of the same processing power as these savants. At the moment, however, the key to unlock that box has yet to be found.

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