by Hailey Park | February 28, 2023
Savant syndrome is a rare condition typically found in individuals with a cognitive disability. Individuals with savant syndrome are gifted with extraordinary abilities that make them unique and remarkable people. Fortunately, savants are progressively being represented in the media, bringing awareness and acceptance to the table.
What is savant syndrome?
Savant syndrome is a condition in which an individual with a neurodevelopmental disorder, such as Autism, has a remarkable ability and talent. This condition may be congenital or can also be acquired later in an individual’s childhood, also known as an ‘acquired savant’.
Interestingly, savant syndrome and autism spectrum disorder are seen to coexist in many individuals. Approximately 50 percent of savants also have autism. However, this should not lead to the conclusion that all people with savant syndrome are autistic. Savant syndrome can also be seen in individuals that have other neurodevelopmental disorders, such as genetic disorders or brain injury.
How common is savant syndrome?
Approximately 1 in 10 people with autism show signs of savant skills. As for the learning disability population, less than 1 percent show signs of savant skills.
What are some typical savant skills?
Savant skills range across a diverse set of abilities. Here are a few examples:
Savants with a musical talent will usually have a perfect pitch and be able to play a whole piece of music after only hearing it once. A neurodevelopmental diagnosis, blindness, and being a musical genius have been reported to co-occur in many individuals.
Artistic savants will tend to have exceptional painting, sculpting, and drawing abilities.
Individuals with exceptional savant math skills will excel at lightning calculations. They also might have the ability to compute multi-digit prime numbers without any written calculations or use of a calculator.
Savants with great calendar calculating skills will be able to name the day of the week that a day will occur on in any given year. For example, individuals will be able to name every year within the next 20 years, where Christmas will fall on a Wednesday.
Superior memory is a common savant skill. Savant individuals with superior memory will be able to memorize an immense amount of information, such as license plates, historical facts, maps, and trivia questions.
Do savant skills ever disappear?
The specific savant skill that individuals possess is difficult to lose. The skill will only improve as it is practiced and used.
Savant syndrome in the media
Savant syndrome has increasingly been represented in TV shows. Some of these shows include The Good Doctor and Extraordinary Attorney Woo. Kodi Lee is also a savant individual that was featured on Season 14 of America’s Got Talent.
The Good Doctor highlights Dr. Shaun Murphy who is an autistic surgical resident but also possesses savant syndrome. He struggles with social skills, communication, and exhibits repetitive behaviors, but his savant syndrome gives him the ability to be an exceptional surgeon. Because he is a savant, Dr. Shaun Murphy has extraordinary logic and observational skills and has an exceptional memory of the human body and medical conditions.
Extraordinary Attorney Woo is a Korean drama show that highlights Woo Young-Woo. She is an autistic attorney who possesses savant skills. She struggled to find a job because of her autism, but her savant abilities provided her a chance at a top law firm. Woo Young-Woo has a superior memory that allows her to restate exact clauses and definitions of legal terms in front of court.
Kodi Lee is both blind and autistic, but is also a musical savant who won Season 14 of America’s Got Talent. Kodi Lee is one of 25 people in the world to have such a keen ability for musical expression, perfect pitch, and an audio photographic memory. Having an audio photographic memory means that Kodi is able to play music after only hearing it one time. He has been able to master six instruments in total, piano being one of them and how he was able to impress the crowd during his time on America’s Got Talent.
Looking at the bigger picture
Portrayal of autism, savant syndrome, and other neurodevelopmental disorders in the media is a great way to uplift such an underrepresented community. At times, however, it can be almost unrealistic because one character or one individual cannot capture the entire scope of a disability. Introducing diverse characters and talented individuals that do have disabilities can bring attention to their uniqueness and the positive differences between a range of conditions. While savant syndrome is just one of the many interesting neurodevelopmental conditions out there, being open to learning about other ones will be a step in the right direction.