They are human, they have disabilities yet are extraordinary, they are the “savants”. They vary markedly in their abilities. Their skills (islands of ability) are usually found in one or more of five major areas: art, musical abilities, calendar calculation, mathematics and spatial skills. Their skills fall along a continuum, ranging from “splinter skills” (such as memorization of license plates), to “talented” savants who have musical or artistic skills that exceed what is expected based on their handicap, to “prodigious” savants where the skill is so remarkable it would be impressive with or without the disability. But according to psychiatrist Darold Treffert, they have amazing memory which he describes as “very deep, but exceedingly narrow”, narrow in the sense that they may exhibit exceptional memory but they have difficulty putting it to use.
Savant syndrome is a condition in which a person with a mental disability, demonstrates profound and prodigious capacities or abilities far in excess of what would be considered normal.
Savant syndrome can be congenital or acquired. When congenital, the skill appears early in childhood, and when acquired, abilities appear to spring forth suddenly following stroke, brain injury, or dementia. Many savants are creative, in additions to being highly skilled. The most common kind of autistic savants are the calendrical savants, ‘human calendars’ who can calculate the day of the week with speed and usually with accuracy. Memory feats are the second most common savant skill.
How these extraordinariness in savants, i.e, the combination of talent and deficit came to be, is yet to be understood, however, there are some clues. For instance, according to Treffert’s account, the savant syndrome which results from a damage to the left anterior temporal lobe causes recruitment of still available intact cortical tissue elsewhere in the brain to compensate for the loss, and this rewiring releases dormant capacity within that still intact cortical tissue. Treffert argues that we may all have a reservoir of inherited knowledge, but savants are able to access this knowledge through the process of rewiring, recruitment, and release.
Although it’s typically the case that left-hemisphere brain damage causes right-hemisphere brain recruitment, rewiring, and release, Treffert acknowledges this is not always the case.
Here is a list of some of these remarkable individuals http://tinyurl.com/AmazingHumans