Greetings Earthlings! 🙂
Following on from the previous post examining ‘Rain Man‘, today I’m going to dive into the area of high IQ’s and savantism relating to autism.
Now before we start, remember- in spite of what Hollywood has led us to believe, savantism is a RARE condition affecting between 0.5 and 10% of autists. This means that over 90% of the autistic community do not possess these skills.
So be sure to take ‘Rain Man‘ with a grain of salt.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s explore this fascinating condition properly 🙂
So first off- what exactly is savantism?
Savant syndrome is an extraordinary phenomenon wherein a person with serious mental disabilities (such as autism) shows unusual or exceptional aptitude for a particular area, task or activity in spite of their mental challenges. Historically, these individuals were also referred to as ‘idiot savants’, a term that is sometimes still used today.
While seemingly insensitive, the phrase actually comes from the French term meaning unlearned (idiot) skill (savant).
Surprisingly, savant skills tend to exist within five different skill categories:
- Music (perfect pitch, performance skills)
- Art (drawing, painting etc.)
- Mathematics (human calculator abilities)
- Calendar calculating (i.e. can tell you the weekday a previous date fell on)
- Mechanical/Spatial skills (model construction, mental measurement calculation)
Other skills have been recorded, but most generally fall within these categories.
Like autism, savant syndrome exists on a spectrum with varying degrees of savant ability. For example, there are:
- Splinter skills- the most common form, involving memorization and obsession with facts, music, trivia, licence plate numbers etc.; kind of like specialist interests
- Talented savants- who show highly honed talents and abilities predominantly in single areas of expertise
- Prodigious savants-those who possess extraordinary skills
Savant skills are additionally accompanied by exceptional memory. For example the ‘megasavant’ Kim Peek on whom ‘Rain Man‘ is based, memorized over 6000 books in his lifetime, all US area and Zip codes, several maps and possessed encyclopedic knowledge of music, geography, literature, history and sports to name but a few!!!
So what’s going on in the brain to cause this?
Numerous theories have been proposed to explain this phenomenon, but as with autism, there is no one single theory to explain all cases. However, two theories in particular seem to dominate.
As savantism is found more often in cases of autism than in other mentally disabled groups, leading expert Simon Baron-Cohen proposed a theory concerning hyper-systemizing.
I know- it sounds complicated! 😛
But basically the theory suggests that savantism results from an autists ability to recognize repeating patterns (systemizing) and excellent attention to detail. People with autism have a different style of thinking and memory filing and this predisposes them to savant skills 🙂
Further to this another theory, supported by several neurological studies of savants, indicates that dysfunction in the analytical left hemisphere of the brain (responsible for logic, language, reasoning, maths etc) causes the right hemisphere (creativity, imagination, art, music) to compensate, which can cause savant skills to emerge. It’s kind of like the right hemisphere is giving the left a piggyback.
In addition to savantism, higher IQ’s are sometimes linked to autism and Asperger’s syndrome.
A number of studies have found that some of the genes linked to autism development are also associated with high intelligence. The link between autism and intelligence is not yet clear, however, people who carry these genes scored better than those without on intelligence tests.
These findings create an interesting paradox given that autism is generally characterized by lower IQ’s. Researchers have proposed the hypothesis that autism involves augmented, but imbalanced elements of intelligence to counter this paradox. This basically means that autists have higher levels of intelligence in some areas (e.g. academia, mathematics, art etc.) but not in others (e.g. social intelligence).
So there we have it, just a quick over view of savantism and IQ in autism! 🙂
Enjoy the weekend everyone! 🙂