Advertisement

The Savant Syndrome and Its Possible Relationship to Epilepsy

  • John R. Hughes
Part of the Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology book series (AEMB, volume 724)

Abstract

The goal of this chapter is to review the Savant syndrome (SS), characterized by outstanding islands of mental ability in otherwise handicapped individuals. Two forms exist: The congenital and acquired form. Among the many examples of the congenital form are the calendar calculators, who can quickly provide the day of the week for any date in the past. Other examples are the musical savants with perfect pitch and the hyperlexics, who (in one case) can read a page in 8 seconds and recall the text later at a 99% level. Other types of talents and artistic skills can be found, involving 3-D drawing, map memory, poetry, painting, sculpturing, including one savant who could recite without error the value of Pi to 22,514 places. The acquired form refers to the development of outstanding skills after some brain injury or disease, usually involving the left fronto-temporal area. This type of injury seems to inhibit the ‘tyranny of the left hemisphere’, allowing the right hemisphere to develop the savant skills. One other way to inhibit the left fronto-temporal area is to use transcranial magnetic stimulation in normal subjects and nearly one-half of these subjects can then perform new skills during the stimulation that they could not perform before. This type of finding indicates the potentiality in all of us for the development of savant skills under special circumstances. Explanations of the congenital SS include enhanced local connectivity as a compensation for underconnectivity of long-range fibers, but also weak central coherence, replaced by great attention to details, enhanced perceptual functioning and obsessive pre-occupation with specific interests. Neurodegenerative Diseases, edited by Shamim I. Ahmad.

Keywords

Neurodegenerative Disease Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Local Connectivity Weak Central Coherence Artistic Talent 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

References

  1. 1.
    Treffert DA. The savant syndrome and autistic disorder. CNS Spectr 1999; 4(12):57–60.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Treffert DA, Wallace GL. Islands of genius. Sci Am 2002; 286(6):76–85.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Foerstl J. Early interest in the idiot savant. Am J Psychiatry 1989; 146(4):566.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Dubischar-Krivec AM, Neumann N, Poustka F et al. Calendar calculating in savants with autism and healthy calendar calculators. Psychol Med 2009; 39(8):1355–1363.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Thioux M, Stark DE, Klaiman C et al. The day of the week when you were born in 700 ms: calendar computation in an Autistic savant. J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform 2006; 32(5):1155–1168.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    O'Connor N, Hermelin B. Do young calendrical calculators improve with age? J Child Psychol Psychiatry 1992; 33(5):907–912.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Heavey L, Pring L, Hemelin B. A date to remember: the nature of memory in savant calendrical calculators. Psychol Med 1999; 29(1):145–160.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Iavarone A, Patruno M, Galeone F et al. Brief report: error pattern in an autistic savant calendar calculator. J Autism Dev Disord 2007; 37(4):775–779.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Mottron L, Lemmens K, Gagnon L et al. Non-algorithmic access to calendar information in a calendar calculator with autism. J Autism Dev Disord 2006; 36(2):239–247.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Ho ED, Tsang AK, Ho DY. An investigation of the calendar calculation ability of a Chinese calendar savant. J Autism Dev Disord 1991; 21(3):315–327.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Pring L, Hermelin B. Numbers and letters: exploring an autistic savant’s unpracticed ability. Neurocase 2002; 8(4):330–337.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Casey BJ, Gordon CT, Mannheim GB et al. Dysfunctional attention in autistic savants. J Clin Exp Neuropsychol 1993; 15(6):933–946.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Hermelin B, O'Connor N. Idiot savant calendrical calculators: rules and regularities. Psychol Med 1986; 16(4):885–893.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Pring L, Woolf K, Tadic V. Melody and pitch processing in five musical savants with congenital blindness. Perception 2008; 37(2):290–307.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Heaton P, Davis RE, Happe FG. Research note: exceptional absolute pitch perception for spoken words in an able adult with autism. Neuropsychologia 2008; 46(7):2095–2098.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Heaton P. Pitch memory, labelling and disembedding in autism. J Child Psychol Psychiatry 2003; 44(4):543–551.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Young RL, Nettelbeck T. The abilities of a musical savant and his family. J Autism Dev Disord 1995; 25(3):231–248.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Goldberg TE. On hermetic reading abilities. J Autism Dev Disord 1987; 17(1):29–44.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    O'Connor N, Hermelin B. Two autistic savant readers. J Autism Dev Disord 1994; 24(4):501–515.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Etchepareborda MC, Diaz-Lucero A, Pascuale MJ et al. Asperger’s syndrome, little teachers: special skills. Rev Neurol 2007; 44 Suppl 2:S43–S47.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Mottron L, Belleville S. Perspective production in a savant autistic draughtsman. Psychol Med 1995; 25(3):639–648.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Mottron L, Belleville S. A study of perceptual analysis in a high-level autistic subject with exceptional graphic abilities. Brain Cogn 1993; 23(2):279–309.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    O'Connor N, Hermelin B. Visual memory and motor programmes: their use by idiot-savant artists and controls. Br J Psychol 1987; 78:307–323.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Rovet J, Krekewich K, Perlman K et al. Savant characteristics in a child with developmental delay and deletion in the short arm of chromosome 20. Dev Med Child Neurol 1995; 37(7):637–644.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Luszki WA. An idiot savant on the WAIS? Psychol Rep 1966; 19(2):603–609.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Dowker A, Hermelin B, Pring L. A savant poet. Psychol Med 1996; 26(5):913–924.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Brink TL. Idiot savant with unusual mechanical ability: an organic explanation. Am J Psychiatry 1980; 137(2):250–251.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Hoffman E, Reeves R. An idiot savant with unusual mechanical ability. Am J Psychiatry 1979; 136(5): 713–714.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Hermelin B, O'Connor N. The idiot savant: flawed genius or clever Hans? Psychol Med 1983; 13(3): 479–481.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Treffert DA. The “Acquired” Savant—“Accidental” Genius. Madison WIL: Wisconsin Medical Society, 2009.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    Sacks O. An Anthropologist on Mars, Seven Paradoxical Tales. New York: Knopf, 1995.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Tammet D. Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant. New York: Free Press, 2006.Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Snyder A, Bahramali H, Hawker T et al. Savant-like numerosity skills revealed in normal people by magnetic pulses. Perception 2006; 35(6):837–845.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. 34.
    Young RL, Ridding MC, Morrell TL. Switching skills on by turning off part of the brain. Neurocase 2004; 10(3):215–222.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. 35.
    Snyder AW, Mulcahy E, Taylor JL et al. Savant-like skills exposed in normal people by suppressing the left fronto-temporal lobe. J Integr Neurosci 2003; 2(2):149–158.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. 36.
    Takahata K, Kato M. Neural mechanism underlying autistic savant and acquired savant syndrome. Brain Nerve 2008; 60(7):861–869.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. 37.
    Miller LK. The savant syndrome: intellectual impairment and exceptional skill. Psychol Bull 1999; 125(1):31–46.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. 38.
    Pring L, Hermelin B. Bottle, tulip and wineglass: semantic and structural picture processing by savant artists. J Child Psychol Psychiatry 1993; 34(8):1365–1385.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. 39.
    Pring L. Savant talent. Dev Med Child Neurol 2005; 47(7):500–503.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. 40.
    Gonzalez-Garrido AA, Ruiz-Sandoval JL, Gomez Valezques FR et al. Hypercalculia in savant syndrome: central executive failure? Arch Med Res 2002; 33(6):586–589.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. 41.
    Happe F. Autism: cognitive deficit or cognitive style? Trends Cogn Sci 1999; 3(6):216–222.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. 42.
    Hughes JR. Autism: the first firm finding = ?underconnectivity? Epilepsy Behav 2007; 11(1):20–24.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. 43.
    Ploeger A, van der Maas HL, Raijmakers ME et al. Why did the savant syndrome not spread in the population? A psychiatric example of a developmental constraint. Psychiatry Res 2009; 166(1):85–90.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. 44.
    Nurmi EL, Dowd M, Tadevosyan-Leyfer O et al. Exploratory subsetting of autism families based on savant skills improves evidence of genetic linkage to 15q11-q13. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry 2003; 42(7):856–863.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. 45.
    Ma DQ, Jaworski J, Menold MM et al. Ordered-subset analysis of savant skills in autism for 15q11-q13. Am J Med Genet B Neuropsychiatr Genet 2005; 135B(1):38–41.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. 46.
    Casanova MF, Switala AE, Trippe J et al. Comparative minicolumnar morphometry of three distinguished scientists. Autism 2007; 11(6):557–569.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. 47.
    Mottron L, Dawson M, Soulieres I et al. Enhanced perceptual functioning in autism: an update and eight principles of autistic perception. J Autism Dev Disord 2006; 36(1):27–43.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. 48.
    Kelly SJ, Macaruso P, Sokol SM. Mental calculation in an autistic savant: a case study. J Clin Exp Neuropsychol 1997; 19(2):172–184.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. 49.
    Kehrer HE. Savant capabilities of autistic persons. Acta Paedopsychiatr 1992; 55(3):151–155.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  50. 50.
    O'Connor N, Hermelin B. Low intelligence and special abilities. J Child Psychol Psychiatry 1988; 29(4):391–396.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. 51.
    O'Connor N, Hermelin B. Visual and graphic abilities of the idiot savant artist. Psychol Med 1987; 17(1):79–90.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. 52.
    Heaton P, Wallace GL. Annotation: the savant syndrome. J Child Psychol Psychiatry 2004; 45(5):899–911.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. 53.
    O'Connor N, Hermelin B. Idiot savant calendrical calculators: maths or memory? Psychol Med 1984; 14(4):801–806.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. 54.
    Hermelin B, Pring L. The pictorial context dependency of savant artists: a research note. Percept Mot Skills 1998; 87:995–1001.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. 55.
    O'Connor N. The 1988 Jansson memorial lecture. The performance of the ‘idiot-savant’: implicit and explicit. Br J Disord Commun 1989; 24(1):1–20.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. 56.
    O'Connor N, Hermelin B. The memory structure of autistic idiot-savant mnemonists. Br J Psychol 1989; 80:97–111.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. 57.
    Chen X, Zhang M, Wang J et al. Normalization of auditory evoked potential and visual evoked potential in patients with idiot savant. Chin Med J (Engl) 1999; 112(3):246–248.Google Scholar
  58. 58.
    Bor D, Bilington J, Baron-Cohen S. Savant memory for digits in a case of synaesthesia and Asperger syndrome is related to hyperactivity in the lateral prefrontal cortex. Neurocase 2007; 13(5):311–319.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. 59.
    Hous C, Miller BL, Cummings JL et al. Autistic savants. Neuropsychiatry Neuropsychol Behav Neurol 2000; 13(1):29–38.Google Scholar
  60. 60.
    Bujas-Petkovic Z. Special talents of autistic children (autistic-savant) and their mental functions. Lijec Vjesn 1994; 116(1–2):26–29.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  61. 61.
    Saloviita T, Ruusila L, Ruusila U. Incidence of savant syndrome in Finland. Percept Mot Skills 2000; 91(1):120–122.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Landes Bioscience and Springer Science+Business Media 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • John R. Hughes
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of NeurologyUniversity of Illinois Medical CenterChicagoUSA

Personalised recommendations