The famous movie Rain Man showcased the incredible memory of an "autistic savant". But what does this definition mean? Savantism research provides useful information about autistic genius, or savant syndrome, and the correlation between extreme abilities and neurodivergent minds.
The terms "superhuman" or "superhero" are not an exaggeration to define autistic geniuses. For example, Stephen Wiltshire, a British architectural artist and autistic savant, is known for his ability to draw a landscape or a metropolis with all the details from memory after seeing it just once. Some autistic savants are able to play musical pieces perfectly, after a single hearing, to process mathematical equations in seconds in their head, or to determine the day a specific date fell on hundreds of years ago.
Savantism is one of the most fascinating psychological phenomenons, fueling a lot of magical myths. Autistic savants have incredible skills in defined areas, generally in the spheres of math, music and art; they excel in these fields in a remarkable way because - or despite - cognitive impairment, developmental disabilities, autism, diseases, or brain injuries. Their stunning talents are always related to memory.
Some people with autism or other intellectual disabilities seem to possess or develop an "island of genius". However, savant syndrome is a rare and extraordinary condition and the autism community finds all these generalizations annoying because most individuals concerned are not savants. Only a minority of autistic persons have exceptional intelligence.
Picture: Stephen Wiltshire draws NYC for UBS (YouTube)