In autistics, anyway – There are more savants out there than we realized.

In New Scientist, Celeste Biever describes her meeting with a 29-year-old blind musical savant with autism who can play any music you request, entirely from memory. She quotes psychiatrist Darold Treffert, who consulted on the film “Rain Man”, as saying, “What makes savants so interesting is this jarring juxtaposition of ability and disability in the same person. We are used to seeing skills that are consistent with each other.”

Savantism is far more common in people with autism than in people with other mental difficulties. Biever quotes researcher Greg Wallace as saying, “When you talk about savants, you have to talk about autism. In many ways they are inextricably linked.” It’s as if when one part of the brain is injured, another part overcompensates.

Scientists used to think that around 1 in every 10 autistics were also savants, but psychiatrist Patricia Howlin thinks the percentage is closer to 30%. She also thinks that autistic savants tend to focus on the details, rather than the overall picture, which leads to abilities that seem startling to the rest of us. They also have the determination to practice until they hone their skill do a prodigious degree.

Or as Elizabeth Knowles so famously said, “Genius is an infinite capacity for taking pains.”

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