Facts about the savant syndrome

What is the savant syndrome?

It is an extraordinary condition that occurs in addition to a grave mental handicap, however it is very uncommon. It is a subtype of hypermnesia, which means the individual possesses exceptional memory capacities. The particular savant skill of the person is related to one specific area of study. 

Facts about the savant syndrome

Not every person with savant syndrome has autism and not every autistic person has savant syndrome. 

Savant syndrome is mainly associated with autism. About every 10th autistic individual presents some abilities of this excessive knowledge. Despite this fact, savant syndrome is not strictly limited to autism. In fact, about half of all individuals with this rare condition have other forms of developmental impairments or mental retardation. 

Male dominance

The number of incidences of the syndrome are significantly higher in males compared to the female population, with a ratio of about 6:1. This interesting prevalence was researched and experts concluded that it is probably caused by prenatal differences in development. As the left hemisphere completes its development markedly later than that of the right hemisphere, it is at greater risk caused by other influences. In male fetuses the testosterone in their body can have a negative impact slowing down development or impairing neuronal functioning in the previously mentioned vulnerable left hemisphere. This explanation is most likely accounting for both savant syndrome and autistic disorder. 

The areas of savant skills

Most commonly each savant individual has one specific skill in a specific area of knowledge, also associated with extraordinary memory. However, in some cases of savant syndrome, mostly in association with autism, multiple skills in one individual had been observed. The areas in which savants excel are for example: music, art, mathematics, calendar calculating, mechanical and spatial skills, exceptional ability to learn languages, precisely distinguish smells, remarkable knowledge in specific fields such as neurophysiology or statistics.

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Treffert, D. A. (2009). The savant syndrome: an extraordinary condition. A synopsis: past, present, future. Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences, 364(1522), 1351–1357. https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2008.0326

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