Autistic children who also experience Savant syndrome are known as Autistic Savants. Savant syndrome is when the children of determination exhibit extraordinary skills or exceptional abilities in one or several fields. Those abilities or skills can be in key areas like memory, mathematical calculation, music, art, hyperlexia (showing remarkable performance in reading and writing), mechanical skill, sports performance, sensory sensitivity, and computer ability. Often, these skills are remarkable as compared to the complications in autism and extraordinary in contrast to the typical population. However, the talents and skills of most of the autistic savants are reflected in their repetitive behaviors, where their exceptional skills might seem to have minimum functioning or effectiveness.
We can take an example of the movie Rain Man, where Dustin Hoffman played the role of an autistic savant, Raymond. It displayed his amazing memory, mathematical and calendar calculation skills; but unfortunately, he was unable to make those skills function effectively.
The word autistic savant was originated when Goodman (1972) reported an autistic child who exhibited significantly inconsistent abilities relative to their intellectual functions. According to Treffert (1989), the term ‘savant syndrome’ has been in use to refer to individuals with or without the intellectual impairment and/or autism who demonstrate skills higher than expected from those with either an intellectual impairment and/or autism, in contrast to the population not ‘disabled’
Furthermore, there are categories for the individuals experiencing Savant syndrome. Savant I or the talented savants are those who have exceptional brilliance that contradicts with the impairments they may experience. The second type, savant II or the Prodigious savants, are those who have the ability and brilliance that is spectacular even for a normal person, as per the research conducted by Treffert.
Characteristics of Savant syndrome
According to Hill (1978), savant skills are expected to be found more in males than females in the ratio of 6:1. Some of the characteristics of autistic savants are as follows:
- Focusing on their particular activities and interests above anything else
- A bit more rigid and inflexible, which makes the application of skills in desired situations a little difficult
The skills involve advanced rote memory and a set of well-organized and structured vocabulary. Till now, it has been estimated that Savant syndrome occurs in almost 10 percent of autistic individuals. However, Howlin (2009) and her colleagues claimed that the prevalence percentage might vary.
How is Savant syndrome caused?
Treffert (1989) suggested that there is a possibility savant skills result from the development of some abnormal neural structures in the prenatal brain development stage. However, the main cause for its occurrence is still unclear and remains controversial.
Savant skills develop in the early childhood stage, where teaching does not occur. Also, it might be a possibility that those skills develop as an outcome of extreme practice and concentration. According to Pring, Hermelin and Heavey (1995), proneness to repetitive behavior patterns also plays an important role in the development of savant skills.
Educational strategies used for autistic savants
A blend of gifted and autism educational strategies are suggested to be used for autistic savants. Acceleration, mentorship and enrichment come under gifted strategies. Acceleration is when the child is promoted to a level of activity. It can be done either through advancing to a higher grade than peers of the same level, known as grade acceleration; or covering the curriculum content in a short period of time, known as content acceleration. Enrichment is changing the existing curriculum according to the needs of the child. Mentorship involves an experienced individual who takes the responsibility of guiding the child in every way possible. Whereas, autistic strategies include visual communication support, individual education plans, functional programming, social stories and use of obsessions.
Small Steps Big Dreams in Dubai, UAE provides therapy sessions to the children of determination according to their individual needs, depending on the symptoms they are experiencing. The focus of autism therapy in UAE is to cater to each child’s unique therapy requirements, so that they are not compromised and can be provided the right environment to strive and establish a successful career path.