SAVANT SYNDROME

Savant syndrome is a rare, but extraordinary, condition in which persons with serious mental disabilities, including autistic disorder, have some ‘island of genius’ which stands in marked, incongruous contrast to overall handicap.

The condition is rare but one in 10 autistic persons show some savant skills although savant syndrome occurs in other developmental disabilities or in other types of central nervous system injury or disease as well. Savant syndrome can be congenital or it can be acquired. Savant syndrome does occur four to six times more frequently in males than females.

Savant skills exist over a spectrum of abilities. The most common savant abilities are called splinter skills. These include behaviors such as obsessive preoccupation with, and memorization of, music and sports trivia, license plate numbers, maps, historical facts, or obscure items such as vacuum cleaner motor sounds, for example. Talented savants are those persons in whom musical, artistic, mathematical or other special skills are more prominent and highly honed, usually within an area of single expertise, and are very conspicuous when viewed against their overall handicap.

The savant skills typically, and curiously, are generally confined to only about five general areas of expertise — music, art, lightning calculating or other mathematical skills, calendar calculating and mechanical/spatial skills.

Savant Syndrome is not a disorder or disease by itself. It is, instead, a condition in which extraordinary skills and prodigious memory are grafted onto, or superimposed upon, a more basic brain dysfunction that rises from a developmental disability, or some other form of central nervous system disease or disorder. Therefore the ‘treatment’ for savant syndrome is the same treatment as that directed toward the more basic central nervous system disorder, such as Autism or Asperger’s disorder, for example. Or in the case of persons with some other form of CNS injury, for example, it would be those treatment and rehabilitation efforts as directed toward overcoming the residual symptoms from such injury.

Treatment strategies

Savant Syndrome is not a disorder or disease by itself. It is, instead, a condition in which extraordinary skills and prodigious memory are grafted onto, or superimposed upon, a more basic brain dysfunction that rises from a developmental disability, or some other form of central nervous system disease or disorder. Therefore the ‘treatment’ for savant syndrome is the same treatment as that directed toward the more basic central nervous system disorder, such as Autism or Asperger’s disorder, for example. Or in the case of persons with some other form of CNS injury, for example, it would be those treatment and rehabilitation efforts as directed toward overcoming the residual symptoms from such injury.

The special skills and abilities the savant demonstrates, however, can be used as a useful tool in the overall treatment and rehabilitation efforts directed toward overcoming or lessening the handicaps from the more basic developmental disorder, injury or disease. In many cases those extraordinary abilities can be used as a way of engaging the handicapped person in improved communication capacity, improved social interaction, and improved mastery of even daily living skills with movement, than, toward greater independence overall. In that manner the savant skills can serve as a ‘conduit toward normalization’. By “training the talent” not only does the special ability improve but there is also increase in language skills, socialization skills and daily living skills.  Each of those leads, then, to greater independence overall.

 

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