The word savant comes from the French word for “knowing”, as in knowledge, but in the context of this list, the term is used to mean a special ability, one that is amazing. Medically this is actually called “Savant Syndrome”. It is not a recognized medical diagnosis per se, but is most certainly known as a rare condition in which persons with developmental disorders (including autism spectrum disorders) have one or more areas of expertise, ability, or brilliance that are in contrast with the individual’s overall limitations. The condition was brought to popular culture with the 1988 movie Rainman, which developed a widespread empathy and fascination for the condition. This list presents 10 savants whose special talents are amazing.
Contrary to popular belief, Savant Syndrome is not necessarily linked to lower IQ or mental retardation. In fact, there are just as many cases of savants with above average IQ. While Savant Syndrome does tend to be linked with a number of different mental disabilities, such as Autism, Asperger’s, Hyperlexia or Williams Syndrome, individuals with these conditions can still have normal or even above average IQ’s.
10. Thristan Mendoza
Thristan Mendoza, nicknamed “Tum-Tum”, is an internationally-recognized marimba virtuoso from Quezon City, Philippines where he was accredited as a child prodigy by the University of the Philippines in 1997. He was diagnosed with autism at age 2 ½, at which age he was also able to read and write. He was born with natural perfect pitch, and with a gifted musical ability, learned to play the marimba at age 5. Psychological testing shows a Verbal IQ in the average (100-110) range with performance IQ in the high average to Superior range (118-131). Yet, despite his social nervousness, fear of bright lights and loud noises, he is currently at college, majoring in percussion.
9. Matt Savage
Matt Savage is a musicological Savant. At the age of 13 he was playing jazz at a professional level and had formed his own trio that toured festivals across North America. He has earned the respect of the greatest jazz musicians, having been called “amazing” by jazz legend Dave Brubeck, and been touted as the “Mozart of jazz.” Despite being only a teenager he has an understanding of the theory and complexities of jazz, with a depth of knowledge that sometimes never comes to adult musicians who have studied music all their lives.
8. Alonzo Clemens
Alonzo Clemens has unique strengths of memory and craft, which combine to create an amazing ability to sculpt from memory. Clemons suffered a severe brain injury as a child that left him developmentally disabled (with an IQ in the 40-50 range), but able to create very accurate animal sculptures out of clay. Clemons can create a sculpture of almost any animal, even if he has seen only a glimpse of it. He is also able to create a realistic and anatomically accurate three-dimensional rendering of an animal after only looking at a two-dimensional image for mere moments. He is most well known for his life-size renderings of a horse, but most of his works are smaller, and accomplished in less than an hour.
7. Henriett Seth-F
It is estimated that only 16 percent of savants are female, and Henriett Seth F, the Hungarian Autistic Savant, certainly falls into this category as an accomplished and highly celebrated writer, poet and artist. After her birth in 1980, she was soon diagnosed with a neurological disorder after failure to make eye contact, general reclusiveness and chronic “echolalia”, a condition which meant she involuntarily repeated the last words said to her. In September, 2005, Henriett was invited by Sandor Friderikusz, the famous Hungarian filmmaker, to participate in a documentary titled Freedom of Speech (A Szolas Szabadsaga). In this film Henriett discusses her autism and her art work. Henriett’s second book, Autism: Another World, was a candidate for the Peter Zsoldos Prize of 2006, by the Alliance for Hungarian Science-Fiction literature. Henriett continues to write, paint and exhibit her work in her native Hungary.
6. Gregory Blackstock
Blackstock makes visual lists: drawings in graphite and crayon and Sharpie of mostly crammed-full groups of things–of ants, of balls, of bells, of noisemakers, of hammers, of pianos. Each drawing is a sort of vertical scroll, with the images neatly laid in rows (the artist needs no straightedge) and labeled, described as “drawn in a style that borrows from both the condensed emotion of the comic and the precision of the diagram”.
5. James Henry Pullen
James Pullen, aka the Genius of Earlswood Asylum, was born in an unfortunate era for Savants. After being born in Dalston, London in 1835, he was quickly dismissed as deaf, mute and developmentally disabled. James was confined to institutions his whole life, where he experienced crippling mood swings ranging from depression to blind rage. It wasn’t until a handicraft session at Earlswood Asylum that his true talents were revealed. He would spend night and day designing cabinets, figurines and other woodwork items then carving them out by any means possible. Some of his masterpieces are displayed around England to this day.
This model has been described as the Mystic Representation of the World as a Ship, and was built by Pullen in 1866. He created a half-hemisphere globe, with a central sun through which could be seen the Queen’s cabin with table, writing materials, dispatch boxes and ‘other requisites for use and ornamentation’. It is decorated outside by the moon, stars, a rainbow, clouds and flashes of lightning and a comet for a rudder (link).
4. Richard Wawro
Richard Wawro is an autistic savant whose special talent lies in drawing, specifically, drawing with crayons. His work was recognized for true genius at a very young age, and he received special recognition at his first show from the British Minister of Education, a young up and coming politician by the name of Margaret Thatcher. Richard passed away in 2006 but his work lives on and can be seen at this site.
2. Daniel Tammet
Daniel Tammet has been copined as one of the “most brilliant minds of Britain” (he was the subject of a 2005 documentary film in the UK entitled The Boy With The Incredible Brain). He was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome (a high-functioning form of autism) by the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge University at age twenty-five, yet at that time had already proved himself as a genius savant through several incredible highly developed abilities. Tammet is well-known for his unusually vivid and complex synesthesia, meaning that in his mind’s eye he sees numbers up to 10,000 with their own unique shape, colour, texture and feel. He can intuitively “see” results of calculations as synaesthetic landscapes without using conscious mental effort, and can “sense” whether a number is prime or composite. He has described his visual image of 289 as particularly ugly, 333 as particularly attractive, and pi as beautiful (which he can recite up to 22,500 digits). The number 6 apparently has no distinct image. Tammet has described 25 as energetic and the “kind of number you would invite to a party”. Tammet not only verbally describes these visions, but has also created artwork: including a watercolour painting of Pi. He speaks 11 languages, learned fluent Icelandic in seven days for a TV show, and is currently creating his own recognized language called “Manti”.
2. Kim Peek
“Put him in an institution and forget about him” was what the doctor told Kim Peek’s father. Born with part of his brain missing, Kim has physical and social disabilities, but is uniquely a non-autistic Savant, with incredible memory skills. He is literally the human computer, and his brain is described as a perfect hard drive, that remembers everything with amazing precision and accuracy. He read and memorized books from the age of 16 months and remembers 98.7 percent of what he reads today – be it history, sport, geography, music, or even the phone book. Kim is renowned as the inspiration for the epic film, “Rain Man”.
1. Stephen Wiltshire
Stephen Wiltshire, diagnosed as mute and autistic, is the human camera. People around him were astounded when he began drawing complex landscapes by memory at the age of five. Stephen has been sent up in helicopters all around the world by those who want to realize the full extent of his architectural Savantism. He has consistently replicated highly complex scenes, such as old Rome, central London and the New York skyline. This resulted in a series of books, including “Drawings” (1987), “Cities” (1989), “Floating Cities” (1991), which made the Sunday Times Bestsellers list, “Stephen Wiltshire’s American Dream” (1993), and the “Stephen Wiltshire Catalogue 2008?. Stephen can now verbally communicate at a basic level, and has become something of an Internet sensation with the help of YouTube and videos such as the one below.
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