Understanding the “True” Potential of Autistic People: Debunking the Savant Syndrome Myth

  • Matthew BennettEmail author
  • Amanda A. Webster
  • Emma Goodall
  • Susannah Rowland


In 1988, the movie Rain Man made its debut in cinemas across the world. This movie raised the public’s awareness of autistic people including some of their strengths and common challenges. Rain Man also led many people to associate autism with savant abilities. This chapter begins with an introduction and history of savant syndrome, before discussing some of the ways that public attention on fictional and real-life autistic savants has contributed to the myth that all autistic people are savants. This is followed by an examination of the research on prevalence of savant abilities in the autistic population and of the cognitive differences, including strengths and difficulties, exhibited by autistic children and adults. The continued impact that the savant myth has on stereotyping and categorising autistic individuals will be examined and recommendations made for moving from a classification-based to an individual-based approach to supporting all autistic individuals to achieve their potential. The chapter will conclude with a discussion of the ways the savant myth can be transformed by changing the public representation, perception and engagement with autistic individuals of all abilities and needs.


Savant syndrome Special skills Splinter skills Autistic thinking High-/low-functioning Individualised approach 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Matthew Bennett
    • 1
    Email author
  • Amanda A. Webster
    • 2
  • Emma Goodall
    • 3
  • Susannah Rowland
    • 4
  1. 1.University of WollongongWollongongAustralia
  2. 2.University of WollongongWollongongAustralia
  3. 3.University of WollongongWollongongAustralia
  4. 4.University of WollongongWollongongAustralia

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