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Biology 202
2001 Second Web Report
On Serendip



A little boy quietly sits in front of a piano, with his fingers poised over the bright white keys. His teacher, seated beside him on the bench, plays a complicated series of chords, filling the air with a beautiful melody. After a single hearing, the boy begins to play, perfectly reproducing the song he has just heard. As the last notes fade away, the boy sits still for a moment and then begins to rock gently back and forth, only stopping once the music begins again....

A genius. A prodigy. One might label this child as such after witnessing this type of performance, were it not for the little nuances of the situation: the rocking, the cold, unemotional expression on the boy's face, and his lack of response to the voices around him. Instead, this boy is diagnosed with Savant Syndrome, a disorder in which individuals with neurological developmental delays in socialization and communication (3) possess "astonishing islands of brilliance that stand in stark, markedly incongruous contrast to the over-all handicap" (6). From absolute pitch and chess playing skill to the card-counting talent popularized by Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, savants may be developmentally delayed, but certainly posses a genius of sorts that is almost unmatchable. In this respect, I am fascinated by the biological and societal origins and significance of the existence of individuals with an IQ well below average who are capable of performing tasks about which some geniuses could only dream. The implications of these individuals are huge in terms of genetics, the nature of intelligence and the varying processes of thought present within humanity. I find that it is the presence of a "weakness" such as autism and its developmental delays which allows for the stroke of genius present in savants. The idea that the brain has plans of its own which is does not communicate to the I-function is certainly an amazing concept in its scope.

These developmental delays are classified as pervasive developmental disorders (PDD). Autism is considered to be the most significant of these PDD's. It is a neurological disorder in which affected individuals have impaired social interaction, problems with verbal and nonverbal communication, and unusual or severely limited activities and interests (2). Often, autistic people have specific routines from which they refuse to deviate, as well as restricted patterns or interests that are considered to be abnormal in their intensity and focus. These habits, like autism itself, vary over a wide range, and may include hair twirling and rocking in mild cases to self-injurious behavior such as head-banging in more severe cases. Autistic individuals have difficulty making friends and sustaining conversations, often fail to respond to stimuli, including their own names, and usually are retarded in their language development. For these reasons, they are often considered to be aloof and unemotional (2). Their intelligence quotients average at approximately 50, as compared to the average of 100.

The occurrence of "these [autistic savants] comets of genius across the sky of man's mental universe" has been noted for centuries, but were simply noted by the French as "idiot savants," or "wise fools" (10). Its etiology can be either congenital or the result of disease or injury to the central nervous system (CNS). The syndrome is six times as likely to occur in men as women (6). In recent years, the neurobiology of Savant Syndrome has become a topic of interest. As Dr. Darold Treffert notes, "The significance of the savant syndrome lies in our inability to explain it. The savants stand as a clear reminder of our ignorance about ourselves, especially how our brains function" (6). Through exploration of the structures of the autistic brain as well as imaging of the activity of the savant brain, scientists have begun to recognize the patterns responsible for this syndrome by which ten percent of the autistic community, including individuals with IQ's below average, are capable of tasks only 100 others (prodigal savants) can perform (7).

The true cause of autism is not currently known, but several theories exist which link the disorder to genetic and environmental factors. Abnormalities have been found in the brains of autistics in comparison to those of non-autistic individuals, such as hypoplasia, where the VII and VI lobules of the cerebellum are significantly reduced in size (4). Dr. Eric Courchesne has presented a theory in which these smaller lobes are associated with the inability to shift attention in a timely manner. In terms of autism, this relationship is significant as the information lost during this delayed shift could result in continued confusion throughout new situations. This reduction is thought to be the result of environmental or genetic conditions in utero. The disease is generally diagnosed within the first three years of life (4).

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has shown several other neurological differences in the autistic brain. The limbic system, which includes the hippocampus and amygdala, relays information throughout the brain while simultaneously correlating emotion to it. The former is associated with memory, while the latter is linked to emotion and aggression (5). These neural structures also contain nerve cells that are immature and have not migrated to their proper locations in the brain. They are therefore incapable of functioning correctly, causing the unresponsive, emotionless expressions often associated with autism, as well as the stereotypical aversion to change (1). A loss of Purkinje cells and their synaptic connections to neurons in the cerebellum have been noted, as well. The primary function of the cerebellum is related to coordination of motor functions and position of limbs in space. Therefore, the elimination of cells aiding in the connection between it and the cognitive processing centers of the brain could impede several aspects of the motor function (5). These developmental problems are thought to be the result of genetic defects during the end stages of brain differentiation, based on animal and twin studies (1).

In terms of Savant Syndrome, these findings are very significant. The inability of autistic individuals to alter the focus of their attention is certainly also related to their ability to selectively direct all of their attention onto one activity. As savant abilities tend to be related to the five primary senses (visual, auditory, olfactory, tactile, and taste), it can be hypothesized that these senses are developed in the right cerebral hemisphere at the expense of the left cerebral hemisphere. In a sense, the obsession with a certain sense is a manifestation of loss of skills in the left brain, where these talents become a form of self-expression. The pattern of brain lateralization in autism shows a dependence on the right brain (10) where the special skills are almost always nonsymbolic and directly perceived, as opposed to left brain skills, which include language and are sequential and logical (6). Recent studies have shown that the most likely cause of Savant Syndrome is damage to the left CNS and higher memory structures, such that the right brain and lower ("habit") memory structures must compensate (9). If this CNS damage is prenatal, then there is often an associated release of testosterone, which is neurotoxic particularly to the left brain, as it takes longer to develop than the right brain. This finding supports the raised likelihood of males suffering from Savant Syndrome compared to females (6).

In particular, all forms of Savant Syndrome are associated with a phenomenal memory, which aids in the recognition of patterns in everything from musical rhythms to calendar counting. Lengthy passages and minute details can be recalled after only being exposed once to the work or route, often with a sensitivity to detail that reaches levels of artistry. The cause of this increased memory is certainly a point of interest, considering the role of the hippocampus in autism. The fact still remains that even with a better memory, most humans would still be incapable of performing the types of tasks that autistic savants do naturally. The reason for this is related to the way by which we perceive the world. For example, when an image falls on the retina, much of the information is screened out, as we learned in class. Before this happens, however, all sorts of details are identified by various parts of the brain in ways that are eventually reconciled to assemble patterns. In savants, this reconciliation does not occur in the same way, and thus "see the picture in fantastically detailed components, like individual pixels in a photograph" (8).

The implications of the above statement are enormous. If the speed of reconciliation is the largest issue, then it follows that within every human, the possibility of savant abilities is present. It has been suggested that as babies, all humans possess savant abilities, as can be seen in the rapid language acquisition at that age as well as the fact that absolute pitch and eidetic memory are much more present in children. Corresponding image studies, which show that newborns are neurologically limited to parts of the brain that eventually become a part of the unconscious, support this idea, as well (8). The theory is further supported by the fact that autistic children often lose their abilities once their social interactions improve, much as children's savant skills deteriorate once they obtain a strong command of language.

The second significant implication of the universal potential for savant skills is that it confirms our theory that there is much more in the universe than what "we" as non-autistic human beings perceive. Patterns exist that are unrecognizable to the unimpaired mind, and there is information that we are not aware of in terms of our I-functions that may actually be of some use, even if that use is simply to improve our creativity as a species. Those affected by Savant Syndrome have included musicians, artists, and mechanics that most likely never would have developed their genius without the disorder.

It is also interesting to note that, as our brains make up for "blindspots," the savant mind does not do so, or at least not in the same way. Where we may hear a three note chord, they might be able to identify a six note chord. This idea is amazing, as it means that evolution could have taken us down a very different path, and that there are characteristics out there that easily could have worked their way into our gene pool, but that with any "improvements," consequences such as autism are possible. In terms of evolution, I was also intrigued by the fact that the brain always finds a way to express itself. In the case of savants, where language capabilities are reduced, other forms of expression are developed, as the right brain compensates for the left brain. Following along with discussions concerning blindspots, it is certainly awe-inspiring how many support systems the brain has as a means of protecting itself. Though it is a slightly disturbing notion that the brain acts in ways that we cannot control or even truly be aware of, there is comfort in knowing that the brain strongly attempts to compensate for its weaknesses.

In the case of the little pianist, the essence of Savant Syndrome and autism becomes very clear. While in any other situation, the boy's skill would be praised as the mark of prodigal genius, in this case it is thought of with little but sadness and fascination. After all, were it not for the presence of developmental displays within his brain, the talent would more than likely never have touched his life on the conscious level. In a sense, the unrealized potential here is much less tragic that the tinge of genius which touches the lives of the autistic savant.


WWW Sources

1)The Neurobiology of Infantile Autism

2)Autism Fact Sheet

3)Pervasive Developmental Disorder

4)Autism and the Cerebellum

5)Autism and the Limbic System

6)The Savant Syndrome:Islands of Genius

7)Autistic Savant

8)Tune in, turn off

9)The Savant in All of Us

10)Phenomenal Talent-The Autistic Kind



Comments made prior to 2007

To understand autism, we first need to have a clear operating definition of what it is. Most of the times, it is defined in terms of the triad of impairments. This is a very negative description which often adds distress to parents whose children have been diagnosed as having autistic spectrum disorder. However, I would define it as a neurodevelopmental spectrum syndrome of constitutional origin, whose onset is usually around the first three years of birth, causing empathizing deficits that result in a triad of impairments in communication, social interaction and imagination, but may, on the other hand, display a strong systemizing drive that may account for a distinct triad of strengths in good attention to detail, deep narrow interest, and innate islets of ability, seen in those whom we called the "savants" ... Noel K.H. Chia, 27 June 2006



I have a question. The only information that I have is from a 60 minutes presentation and reading one article. But, I did have a thought. If one was to assign numbers to all the different parts of the brain, both normal and autistic, and I mean everything from chemicals, to structures, to processes... would a savant be able to decipher and come up with the answer themselves? I am sure someone has thought of this previously, but I was interested in your response ... Michelle, 13 March 2007


I read part of the story about the boy that heard the notes of a melody and then immiediately played the notes from memory. Then I noticed the following statement that talked about how the boy started rocking back and forth.


I believe that the boy started to rock back and forth, because deep down he probably knew that he was at a very rare level of intelligence.


I have a theory that autism might have a very strong connection to eidetic memory.


Through my research thus far, there seems to be two parts to eidetic memory. Photographic memory-which retains images that are listed on paper or in a visual form such as a computer or television. Eidetic sound memory-which retains the normal voice pitch or melodious sounds of people or animals.


I believe that if people look at how blind people learn to listen to sounds they will begin to see a very an eidetic process emerge. Because the same thesis could also be applied to deaf people that learn to memorize images.


I believe that there are actually different levels of eidetic memory to be considered.


Progressive Level One: People born with photographic memory that might possibly even remember being born due to the ability to retain images. These people might even have a partial eidetic ability to remember sounds from that same event and onward into their life.


Progressive Level Two: People born with eidetic sound memory that enables them to remember sounds from the womb and increasingly thereafter. These people might possibly remember images from their own birth as well.


Level Three: People who go deaf or blind and have the ability to recall images or sounds once they go through a learning process ... Reader on the web, 9 April 2007



i am the parent of a male autistic / savant artist . he was born in 1968 when autism was a virtually "unknown subject".


it may be of interest to some person studying in this field to have the information and history (so far) of our experiences which we have kept well documented . he has gone from a total nightmare to a self sufficent ,fairly successful person in his own right. living by himself , communicating , and painting etc. ... John Rodger, 25 May 2007


Yasse Qasso's picture

Savant childe

I have a childe with14, years old many Dr.s here diagnosed him as savant syndrum he has abnormal mental ability I don't know weather the diagnosis is accurate on not I need help. I can send u videos about his abilities
Note: I live in Kurdistan and no specialists centers here

Natasscia Bryce Serendip Visitor's picture

I was just looking at types

I was just looking at types of memory. I recall lots of things uncontrollably and sometimes the person in the situation I recall doesn't remember it. I can see a face for a split second and recall years after.I am 16. I also don't dream is something wrong with me?

Serendip Visitor's picture

What to do?

Now that I know what savant syndrome is, the next question is what should I do? is there a special school? can he/she be in a normal school? can he/she be help when he/she is still 2 yrs old?
Most parent would be very confuse as what shuld the parents do next, how to handle their kid and his/her future...

dale dupree's picture


great info but the links are not working for me at this time, very impressive article on this subject.

Serendip Visitor's picture

I wanted to read more. I'm

I wanted to read more. I'm doing a report on autism and Savant Syndrome for a psyc course. Only two of your sources direct me to a valid webpage...can you tell me where you got your information? Thank you!

pius's picture

Evolution on the go

Most time when I read about children/adults diagnosed with autism or any other neurological ''disorder'', and the extraordinary skills they exhibit, I would say that the human species is undergoing evolution without some of us recognising it. Instead we will use unholy terms to label this gifts of nature. It is high time we come to terms with it and apprecite the goodness of God for giving us such blessings.

rhoda's picture


Hi, I am a parent of an autistic child who is four years old, I was wondering, when he was just one and a half, he knew the difference between letters and number, every number was a two and every letter was a b, he didnt spontanious speak until he was three, but his IQ is just amazing, he used to called out the reg number from the back of cars, he has finished the junious infant cariculum and he is only in a pre school ASD unit, my question is would he have savant traits and how old can you get your child.

Serendip Visitor's picture

geniuses are weird

seems to me many quirky geniuses are misdiagnosed as autistic. I am for the complete elimination of asperberger as a diagnosis

Teresa Alvis's picture

-Looking for Answers- My

-Looking for Answers-
My nephew Derrick is 5 yrs. old soon to be 6. He was diagnosed as Autistic (pervasive) at age 3. We could always tell he was somewhat of a loner. Never showing much attention to the other kids or even trying to play with them. He just preferred to do his own thing. My sister has always read to Derrick and I mean alot, It is his favorite thing to do! So, it didn't come as to much of a surprise that he learned the name of every animal known to man! I'm not talking frog or cow, He would tell you "thats a red-tounged African tree frog" he knows all the species as well! Next he became infatuated with dinosaurs, He again, very meticulously Memorized all of them and he can tell you whether they were omnivores, Carnivores, etc. The most recent infatuation of his is Space. So, the other day I am babysitting Derrick and he got a little cranky over the light being on! He has terrible behavioral problems. I talked him into turning on the light in exchange for me letting him watch a movie on my laptop. I get him sit down at the table in front of the laptop. The movie was "Journey to the edge of the universe". I pushed play and what happened next sent chills all throughout me! Derrick started out naming the planets as they came into sight but, before the narrator. Then he went on a total ramble, just pouring out information about the gas-giant planets, he named the moons of the planets, He shrilled with excitement when he saw the solar system and he knew the closest star to our galaxy. "The Milky Way" he says in such excitement and then he goes on to tell us what function the sun and blackhole have in our Galaxy. He told me it takes 100 or 500million stars to make up a galaxy and and that theres a huge cluster of 2000 galaxies. Nothing short of amazing! So, my question is Where do we go from here! We live in a small town and theres no school for Autistic children. He goes to school with the regular kids but hes not even able to write his own name! I just see that hes so Amazing and I feel like there should be something better for him than the constant disappointment in not being able to achieve the small things that the others in his class do!! Any suggestions would be appreciated!

Tyler B's picture


I have a five year old son Tyler, who was diagnosed with ASD when he was two. As devastated as me and my wife where we learned as much as we could and immediately began early intervention. He didn't say his first three word sentence til he was almost four. But now Tyler can read most books and memorize almost anything he reads. He can recite entire books by memory alone! it's also not just what he reads. He can hear a song on the radio a couple times and sing the whole song!He can count to 120 in English and to 20 in Spanish. He can even say a few words in Mandarin. He knows all the planets in the solar system all geometric shapes and can do simple math like addition and subtraction.Not to mention his amazing personality. My son still has many behavior issues to overcome as well as conversation structure. I just want to say I'm honored to know of another child and family like mine. Almost all of the traits your son possesses mine does as well.he knows the animals the space facts dinosaurs and I'm just amazed. Please let me know how he is doing.thank you

Serendip Visitor's picture

A question about SAVANT SYNDROME

I just seem a video about Savant-Syndrome few weeks ago. And after some days i had a dream. There show some chemical formula I never remember it before.Weather the formula is correct or not, it remind me while dream connect with subconscious, what would a man with Savant-Syndrome dream about?

Serendip Visitor John Waters's picture

independent brain researcher-savant

SURAL SHAH, et al, how do I talk with you? I have done important research on so-called "autism" special talent. You seem sincere in your interest.

On this subject folks need to work together and stop hiding from each other.

Hope you write soon.


Tyler B's picture

I have a five year old son

I have a five year old son Tyler, who was diagnosed with ASD when he was two. As devastated as me and my wife where we learned as much as we could and immediately began early intervention. He didn't say his first three word sentence til he was almost four. But now Tyler can read most books and memorize almost anything he reads. He can recite entire books by memory alone! it's also not just what he reads. He can hear a song on the radio a couple times and sing the whole song!He can count to 120 in English and to 20 in Spanish. He can even say a few words in Mandarin. He knows all the planets in the solar system most geometric shapes and can do simple math like addition and subtraction.Not to mention his amazing personality. My son still has many behavior issues to overcome as well as conversation structure. I just want my story to be inspiration to families new to autism, it's not your fault and just have patience. Your child is different but in a special way that only will come to light if you nurture the seed that has been placed in your care, and above all research and stay positive.

Anonymous's picture

my 8 years son with autism

he is a very lovely and adorable boy. he onces told me that he has a brain and he remembers stuff.i want to know if he has the savant in him. there was this particular day he asked a the question ,what is a woman? he came up with different definitions or should i say answers or explanations. And they were mind-blowing. He didn,t even ve to pause and think, the answers were just coming out effortlessly. The next day i had to ask him the same question again and his response this time blew me away, even a week after he still was responding very technically and hypothethically to the what is a woman.Really and truly the responses made so much sense.But with him as a child with ASD and other overlapping conditions such as learning difficulties it really amazes me.

Marcie's picture

My daughter is 11 years old

My daughter is 11 years old and since she was 5 she has been diagnosed ADD/ADHD. Her doctor put her on the highest dosage of concerta allowed. I have been fighting that for two years now. With the help of two new therapists we are trying to make a change for her. But I have new worries, I have always thought that there might be something else other than ADD/ADHD wrong. About 7 months ago I noticed changes in my daughter. I knew she was hitting puberty and that might account for some of the changes but then they became too extreme. She started having rapid cycles, one extreme to the next, depressed, hyper, etc. For a month I kept a diary of all her behaviors. She started "sorting", when you tried to talk to her during one of these episodes she seriously could not hear you until she had finished. She started hording, pencil shavings, paper and food. She has always been a below basic student in school, no matter how much help I have either given or gotten for her. She is obsessed with the Food Channel, that is her Cartoon network. Two weeks ago over her spring break we visited a family member who gave us an outsider's insight. While talking to my daughter she said that My daughter see's everything in art. Her brain only only see's art. Art is how she expresses herself because she doesn't have the verbal skills to adequately say it. She hordes because when you pile paper and it falls it makes a collage of sorts, pencil shavings make roses, but they also turn colors when the air hits the wood and she's fascinated by it. And when I took her art away( not knowing that this is how she functions), that's when she started the extreme behavior. When we came home I rearranged her room so that I could cover one entire room in white paper and told her that was her art wall. Every morning and night my daughter adds more art to this wall. In the last 3 days I have seen her calmer than she has been in years. Alot of times her "art" is just lines and shapes but it's beautiful. When she's doing math at school she doesn't conform to their standards...she has to do it her way. She doesn't understand their methods but when she does it her way she comes to the same conclusions as their way would have shown. The end results are the same but the solving is different. Three years ago we had her tested...her results showed that she is an incredibly smart child, but one thing the doctor told me was if she could have everything in her life in puzzle fashion she would be able to cope and manage with no difficulties at all. Now I finally understand what he meant. What I don't understand is what is exactly wrong with my daughter. How do I help her if I don't know what's wrong? I read on bipolar(because my 13 yr old is bipolar) and some of it she fits, then I read on autism and she fits some of that as well. Her memory is the best I have ever seen on a child. She can remember numbers like no one I have ever and art sooth her where nothing and no one can. She can't tell me what's wrong but she can draw a picture that tells it all. If you don't talk about feelings she can talk up a storm. She's a wonderful stinker. Is there anyone who can give me any advice? I am so frustrated with her doctor and terrified that when she hits middle school that she's going to have more trouble than what she needs.

Ellen Dokton's picture

My daughter is 11 years old

I read your description of your daughter and I think she sounds like a spectacular young woman. I have to ask you what your reasons are for looking at her as if something is "wrong" with her. She is different. She thinks differently and sees the world differently from others. That does not translate to mean that the way she thinks and views the world is wrong. It is simply different. I think it would be wonderful if we could all appreciate what we have within ourselves and recognize that we are all of the same species but at different points of development. That it's okay to be who we are. We don't all have to be the same.

What do you think?

tweedle's picture

By all means pose the

By all means pose the autistic question to your paediarrician or seek the advice of a paediatrician who understands the disorder. If having a name or a label helps you to understand and or receive help and guidence for your daughter. It is my belief as a parent of two children on opposite ends of the spectrum and also a childhood educator that we all fit somewhere on the spectrum. You and I, both supposedly neuro-typical have autistic traits to some degree , maybe not to a degree that it is disabling , but we all sense and react to our world in unique ways. Each and everyone of us perceive and relate to our world in a completely individual fashion. Honour everyones perception as real to them because it is. When we all stop putting our own expectations and experiences on everyone else then we truly will have evolved. The fabric of life and humanity is diverse and extremely colourful. Lets encourage and embrace those diversities and stop living in a mono-chrome , one dimensional world. The ideal of the "brave new world "
where we engineer people to be pefect, with no defects or individuality is defective and scary to me. If YOU and I were put under the microscope what defective things would they find. So be careful when you get her assessed, they are going to find out more than you want to know. Everyone of us has flaws, having her assessed is only going to highlight hers more so.How many of us live out our lives in a particular way because it is expected of us to be a certain way. How many of us can say that we have lived a true life. This is your daughters way and I am glad you have put the paper up over the walls for her to express herself. You are a wonderful parent. Keep working with her and never against. She will add so much colour to your life if you let her.

Anonymous's picture

You Tube videos on autism

I found some interesting videos on you tube. One is about an autistic savannt. Another about a boy with aspergers. And then two called "autism spectrum seems out of control" and "autism epidemic out of control"

Anonymous's picture

The autism spectacle spectrum

The term autistic has been misused to describe persons with anything from cerebral allergies and schizophrenia to attention deficient disorder and post traumatic disorder. Sadly, few doctors and educators understand true cases of autism to make a correct diagnosis. So they go with the latest media driven flow. Pick and choose from a broad and ever expanding spectrum. Or worse, they guess. The hallmark traits of autism are: sensitivity to sounds, specific tastes in food/drink, strange body postures, repetitive behaviors, inability to control emotions or excitement, poor reasoning skills, needs routines, resists changes, sense of direction and memory better than other skills, thinking based on association, not reasoning, once distracted by olfactory, visual or auditory stimuli, they become preoccupied. This is markedly DIFFERENT than ADHD, in that ADHD presents as easily distracted by stimuli, BUT, the person bounces focus from one thing to another. ADHD people don’t stay hyper-focused or fixate on something. That is what you will see a truly autistic person do. Fixate. Appear to be in a world of their own. Not wanting to play or socialize with others. Not wanting to play or socialize with others is only a hallmark trait of autism when it ALSO involves, not willfully choosing to ignore or not play with others. A truly autistic person doesn’t choose to not play or socialize, it’s simply who they are-- not to play or socialize with others—is in itself the core of autism—within oneself. They may show signs of affection or social skills, but it will almost always be brief.

Autism research examines high functioning Autism (and Aspergers) but continues to ignore low functioning (severely) autistic subjects. So, if research is focused exclusively, or almost exclusively, on participants with high functioning autism or Aspergers, HOW much do we REALLY know about Autistic Disorder which, by definition, includes those with low functioning autism if we don’t’ study low functioning autism? Let’s be honest, many researchers are uninterested in an autism case that doesn’t have a direct bearing on a positive grant flow

Liana Harmandyan's picture

my little 8 year old


I Live in Belgium and have a daughter she is 8 years old diagnosed with charge syndrome. She has a lot of Autistic characteristics.

This summer I visited a friend whom I had not seen in 6 years and she had a piano it was out of tune. Talia my daughter started playing it and her fingers were gliding she did not even have to look at the piano! I took a video of it She had never seen nor played a piano in her life. She has no speech and still wears pampers mentally she is at 2 years old. I have shown the video to a few people and it is really shocking. I did not really realize at that time untill I watched the video later. My friend was saying that she is a natural and called her little Miss Motzart!

Soon we will be moving back to The U.S and I wanted to know if she is savant? What should I do?


Betty Jean Privigyi's picture

How do you know if your small child is a Savant?

I am the mother of a 6 year old Autistic child who absolutely loves doing puzzles. She mostly prefers Jigsaw puzzles but, still enjoys shapes puzzles on occasion. We've not tried any brain teasing puzzles yet.

She's become rather good at doing them and we've noticed in the last month or so that she no longer likes to put her jigsaw puzzles together with the picture side up. She likes to turn them over and put them together on the blank side.

We've also noticed when she wants us to put them together that she knows the exact order of the pieces and she will hand those pieces to us in the proper order, one at a time.

Is this Savant behaviour? Is it considered a diagnosis? Is it something we should mention to her Doctor's as a matter of importance in her diagnosis?

ken mieske's picture

how is you retarded daughter?

is she ok?

Anonymous's picture

India Savant Syndrome(savants)

Yes i would say this is a pre-diagnoses. For what i see. not being a doctor but the brother of one who knows. Savants syndrome is not only being a mathematical genius. But also puzzles, Letters and spelling,science and puting things together. Your child in my eyes would be classified as having Svant Syndrome. Your child shows the tell tale signs that she has the Disease. Being able to put a puzzle together upside down is very unique but also not totally saying. "Savants!" Yet not totally impossible. If one were to put a puzzle together enough times one could easily learn the shapes and the position on which the piece belongs. Therefore your childs ability to be able to just hand you the right piece. Yet still at this age that would be a lot harder to do. I would definitely say there are the signs of Savant Syndrome. I would bring this subject with your doctor during the next visit with you and your child. And ask him to make a diagnosis and tak it from there.

Mary Ann  Harrington's picture

Dannielle and Max

You both certainly should be proud moms. Your kids sound amazing. Perhaps they could explain their unique and fascinating capabilities. Maybe they are tapping into their subconscious mind or a universal field of knowledge that most of us are unable to access. I would love to hear them explain their gifts. Mary ann

Mary Ann  Harrington's picture

Savant Syndrome

Bravo! I want to thank you for the comprehensive well-written article. The comments and insights of those who have experienced similar phenomena first hand were mind opening.

Having worked with individuals with autism for many years, I have come to believe that the brain is more of a diffusing device than an emanating one. I believe it is a right brain connection to the subconscious. The subconscious mind in turn is in touch with the subconscious mind of others and a universal cognitive field. Many people with autism have savant level calendar skills. Yet the calendar is manmade and not determined by some mathematical formula. How could he do this if he were not tapping into a consciousness that awareness?

Where do extreme areas of competence originate? Who or what is the source? Our individual egos cannot help but question, analyze and edit. I suspect that a savant is not encumbered by ego and thus remains in flow.
I speculate the savant experiences a gradient of exchange in which he opens up a vacant part of himself to ideas, a form of canalization that deepens and widens over time. The passage of information flows freely, uninterrupted by configurations of brain wave patterns that transpose higher-level thinking into constructs that configure themselves to the mechanism in place. In other words, savants experience information as a free flowing river without the tributaries. The source of the information can be thought of as the ocean of the mind where all information is available. Random thoughts proliferate in a disorganized fashion, attuning to the frequency of the individual being used for expression. An open channel or receptivity occurs.

This genius includes direct expression of an extreme area of competence since the ego of the savant does not interfere with the process. This subjugation of objective self occurs, as the dominant force is the expression of the idea. The savant is able to turn himself over to another source for expression. Unlike most of us, who self monitor, his gate to the emanating force is wide open.

The savant may not have full awareness of what he has produced; however, he is aware that he is in flow. It is a meditative state for him in which his system feels relaxed and at peace. His accomplishments, though not entirely his own, could not occur without him. It is a dance so to speak. He is a tool to express areas of consciousness that would otherwise be unavailable. It is a process that affirms the unique aspects of his connection to universal knowledge and the knowledge base of others individually and collectively.

Balance of self with soul and complete surrender to the process demands ultimate trust and courage. Who among us is capable of that level of abandon? Perhaps, that is why so many of these intriguing savants have been diagnosed with autism or other neurological and/or perceptual differences. Just maybe, it is the lack of ego restraints that allows their genius to flourish.

Many individuals diagnosed with low functioning autism, I believe are intellectual and spiritual savants. Their process differs- they need an agent/facilitator to serve as a catalyst for expression. The preconceptions and knowledge base of the agents/facilitator limit their expression since they interpret the autistic savants unmitigated free flowing thoughts using their own vocabulary and knowledge base. Some agents, I believe reside on the perimeters of knowing but fear of taking the plunge holds them back. If the agent makes a concerted effort to incorporate new knowledge with past understanding, the circle will continue to widen. But in order for this to occur the agent needs to acknowledge that it exists. This is my area of interest and my mission!

Those with supposedly low functioning autism that I spoke about have heavily influenced my explanation of the process I hope it resonates with some of you have experienced it first hand.

Mary Ann Harrington

Anonymous's picture

Children with Autism and

Children with Autism and Savant Syndrome should be cherished as gifts from God. I am fifteen years old, and I work in my high school special education department. My "Charges" as I call them, can be infuriating, they can be so frustrating that I want to scream. And then I remember why I decided to work there. My neighbor Ben, or Little Ben as I call him, is six years old and has severe Autism. Ben is my best friend, and i love taking care of him. He laughs when I spin him around, he cries when I leave. I know that Ben, Alyssa, Courtney, Dereck, Luca, Trevor, Kasey, and Casey have touched my heart and soul. They will forever be imprinted in my mind, and as I go throughout life, I hope to learn from the truly innocent.

Mary Ann  Harrington's picture

Touched my Heart and Soul

I worked as a teacher with students with autism for many years. Like you, they truly touched my heart and soul. It was uplifting being in their presence. I learned so much from their directive to "Open my heart and join." Like you I had a some rough day, now forgotten, just the love remains.

Lea Strongheart's picture

At the age of six years old,

At the age of six years old, I picked up a college text and started reading it with comprehension. I went on to become a very fast reader. I was tested and was reading over 10,000 words per minute with good comprehension. On the other hand, I could never even put together an eight piece puzzle. I still can't. I could not do math. In eighth grade I was labeled as retarded and placed in Special Ed. Somehow I graduated and went on to nursing school. I continued reading fast..thirty to forty books per hour, but I never could never read ekg's. I do not know how I got 80's in all my nursing tests. By the grace of God I think. I prayed alot. When I was small, I started playing the piano spontaneously. I had music in my soul. People tell me the music I create helps them heal. I could pick up any musical instument and play it without instuction. Several times I started speaking languages I had never studied. I spoke Hawaiin and Korean. From the time I was small I could communicate with animals. I am very sensitive. I can "read" people, the environment etc. I can tell if someone angry has prepared my food. With a glance, I know if someone is in integrety,if they are hiding something,or if they drink etc. I knew that the man who made the mattress on my bed abused his wife. I never made friends until I was in my forties. I was so socially inept when I went to college, that I waited three days to ask where the cafeteria was located. I would rather not eat than to speak with people. I was that shy. I am very intuitive. I always knew ahead what was going on with my patients. I knew if they were going to crash, or bleed etc...way before the doctors. The doctors I worked with trusted my observation abilities and never questioned me when I called them. I could look at someone and know the date of their death. I was usually about five minutes off. When I meditated for long periods and ate live foods,these abilities increased. I have had a very challenging life. Recently I expierienced a traumatic brain injury. I do not read like I did and the ability to create music seems to be gone. Instead of beautiful chords and melodies, the sounds are dissonant. I am hoping to regain the ability to play the piano. I do not care if I speed read. For a short time I worked as a greeter at a healing center. Children would come in with autism, asperger's syndrome etc. The parents would tell me their children did not talk or communicate. Do you know what??? I communicated with the children. I took them out in nature. We communed with nature and with each other. It was not in the third dimension. These children are gifts from God,and are to be treasured.

Serendip Visitor's picture


You sound like an absolutely fascinating person. Much could be learned from you. I hope you are recovering from your TBI. Love and blessings.

Mary Ann  Harrington's picture

autism and nature

I communicated with the children. I took them out in nature. We communed with nature and with each other. It was not in the third dimension.

I totally resonate with your statement above. I have done the same. What a fascinating and yes, challenging life you have lead. You should continue to write about your experiences. Much can be learned form them.

God bless you,

Mary Ann

janny's picture

During this period also life

During this period also life was a lot simpler. When I was in elementary school a kid has a lot less many responsibilities to worry about. There was no bills or car payments due every month. Instead there were baseball cards, pogs, and physical Ed. We would run around a field to see who was the fastest kid in class.
God bless you
life changing experience essay

Serendip Visitor's picture

My Reading Of Machines

Hello Lea,

I just happened upon this site a few moments ago so forgive me for the delayed response. I can read machines like you read people and that skill is definately true. Also, when taking a test of 3D on 2D paper, the answers literally raise off of the page like that new chalk that kids use on pavement before donning special glasses that show some of what they do raised off of the ground. Very interesting. That's great that the doctors did not second guess you when you called them.

Mary Ann  Harrington's picture

At the age of six

What a fascinating life you have had and what tremendous "gifts" you were given! I'm in awe! I can certainly relate to you comment below. Did you feel that you were "joining" or "blending" energy during these communications? Did you sense that you had opened up your heart, mind, and soul to for their use? Did it feel like you were helping them to entrain to the rhythm of the earth? Joining at higher levels of consciousness with my friends with autism broadened my conception of the universe, as they led me on an internal journey to an ever-evolving belief system. Intuition, joined energy, direct knowing, and telepathy are now part of my perceptual reality.

""I communicated with the children. I took them out in nature. We communed with nature and with each other. It was not in the third dimension. These children are gifts from God,and are to be treasured".

I think it would be great if individuals who have had these types of experiences would band together to say that something extraordinary is happening even if we don't fully comprehend it. I believe these kids and people like you have so much to teach us about consciousness if and when society is willing to listen. Thank you again for your incredible story! Mary Ann Harrington

Anonymous's picture

seeking answers

I am 41 years old and have been diagnosed with bi-polar. I take meds for this reason although I still have manic and paranoid episodes. I know that I am different from other people because I have talents that range from painting, singing, playing guitar, writing stories and poems to making jewelry, magnets and even sewing. I am always busy doing something. I also count the numbers on the clock and tile blocks on the floor. I am very smart and meet no stanger but it bothers me to know that I am (or I feel) very different than most people my age. I have never kept a job. I have a diploma as a child care educator but I do not work in that field or any. My aunt says that I am a genius but I feel as if I am really need to know more. I have problems controlling my emotions at times but over all, the people I know are not like me. Could I be savant without the autism? Please shine some light on this subject for I am lost in a world that I feel I don't belong.

Gayle Badalamenti's picture


I just found out last week that my 4yr old Daughter Dani Girl is Autistic/Savant I knew that she was a special little girl at the age of 2 when other children loved child books Dani Girl sit by herself and was studying The Telephone book for hours she would do this. I tried to sit her down with my other children around dani age to read to her but she wouldn't involve herself in story time with the children. And then she started speaking to me in three different languages when I would tell her I didn't understand her she would get really nervous to a point of going in to what one would calls fists but after ten mintues when she would come out of it she would repeat what she had spoken in English, so I could understand . Then we had moved in to a new home and it took me 3mos to get her out of her walk in closet when day she grab her art equipment and began to draw on her white closet door a perfect fish in a fish bowel with bubbles I was in total shock. I still don't know What dani girl was trying to show or say that day with the fish bowl drawing but in any case for a 3yrs old that was the most beautiful piece of art that I had ever seen from a young child. And when she turned 4 yrs old my older children bought dani girl a piano my friend plays the piano play a song on it for her once he lefted the piano we walk out of the front room and began to hear dani girl play the same song it was amazing she is such a gift in life thanks to this web site I finally realize what the doctors meant when they call my daughter Danielle Autisic Savant .....One Blessed Mother and Child.

April's picture

My Savant Son

"Max", wonderful child! He is 13 years old now and has the gifted ability to calendar count, lightening speed calculations and has a photographic memory. He is unique without doubt. Max is not mentally impaired. Although he is labeled "Autistic", he is unlike any other child that I have met or even read about in 11 years. I personally am at a loss as to what causes these savant skills, I will continue to read and scientists will continue to study and maybe one day we will have the answers we seek. Until then, the more interest from the public then the more research money for autism. Max- My Earth Angel and a gift to all of us. He amazes us not only with these skills but the gift of not seeing colors in skin and always wearing rose colored glasses. From a very Proud Mommy.

Serendip Visitor's picture

Lea Strongheart

I read the note about reading machines. I used to know if the car needed more oxygen...or if it was going to break down. Then there was a time, I went to Las Vegas..As my boyfriend played poker, I would wander around the casino..slowly, quietly and deliberately..touching the videao poker machines. I could tell if they wanted to hit..I would win but I had patience..lots of it. It might take a couple of days..I never played just to play.. For several years I used to see numbers in my dreams, if they lit up, you could bet I could I would take a few dollars and go play them. Within 10-15 minutes I would have anywhere from 1000.00-10,000 dollars. This happened every one to two years. I never took more than fifty dollars with me to spend and I actually got the message at one point to never go into a casino again. I heed my dreams. Not too long ago I saw nine out of ten numbers light up..all in the color pink. Then it happened again. Well, I was certainly tempted for a minute..but I remembered the divine message I recieved.."Do Not Gamble." This is just silly sharing..