This particular article answers a few questions that have commonly appeared on this medical site and other search engines due to a high public interest, given the masses of people that have viewed Rain Man, 60-Minutes Specials, even Temple Grandin, or other figures that have rose to a celebrated level with Autism since the 1980's. Dr. Darold Treffert [MD] specifically focuses on the concept of the"Autistic Savant", as well as the true relationship between child prodigy and Autism.
The first preconception to be over-ruled is the theory that only those who are Autistic can all become Savants. Due to communications, functioning and general IQ or other intelligence test those with severe Autism are often also labelled mentally retarded, so the definition of a savant as a person of learning, especially one with detailed knowledge in some specialized field, considered an exceptional scholar, due to their brain functions or biology, only applies to a very small part (about 10%) of the Autistic population. However, within the category of those considered to have Savant Syndrome nearly half are also Autistic or have some sort of developmental disability, (a categorization that is changing as we speak, but that is a different matter).
It is no surprise that people are fascinated at the idea of being both intensely plagued and extremely gifted ongoing in one's brain at the same time. There are a few separate physiological factors or extraordinary mental capacities that are usually found coupled with Autism to create the known portrait of the savant. Famed savants generally consist of a high-functioning existence, despite intelligence peaks or lows, allowing the person to feed and care for oneself without causing any harm, malnourishment, thus they do not need constant supervision like severe cases. In the case of Raymond Babbitt, a photographic memory or "verbal adhesion" is one of the keys to their educational success when paired with reasonable speech and/or writing skills. A distinct focus to these learning abilities is almost always present, as they may be spectacular at physics, spacial skills and the math associated, while unable to grasp other ideas in literature, social studies, etc. These combinations make a recognizable savant, and as you put this picture into frame, you may also be surprised to find out this savant is probably a male (only one female per every six males recorded), which may just be an overall symptom of the genetic spread Autism in itself.
Within the section of the Autistic Savant, there are three sub-groups, the prodigal ones with abilities outreaching any normally function human brain who are ready to be rocket scientists by adolescence, those with evident honed specializations appearing more gradually, and those with "splinter skills". The obsessive observatory and memory skills linked to imagery and sounds can cause an aptitude in recognizing things the average person could not, but their talents are not as magnificent in the departments of comprehension and developing calculative or reasoning abilities. To put it into a "numbers" perspective, at any given time in the world there are likely to only be 25 Prodigal Autistic Savants living among more than 6 billion people.
The mere idea of Autism and many other handicaps have all come about in the past 200 or so years. It wasn't until the turn of the nineteenth century that Dr. J. Langdon Down, who is famed for discovering the factors and symptoms of what we now know to be Down Syndrome, stumbled upon a similar group of disabilities, which likely included the Autistic or Asperger's Syndrome afflicted, to which he claimed many were "Idiot Savants", an oxymoron that barely touched upon the reality of their circumstance.
Another related article (Less credible as it has a media-related bias):
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