Skip to main content
Select Source:

Savant

Savant

Savant is a name used to describe a person who has extraordinary skills in a very specialized area, but who is nonetheless intellectually disabled. It properly describes a rare phenomenon or syndrome in which a person with a severe mental handicap displays genius-like ability in a narrow field or area.

Shocking contrasts

The award-winning movie Rain Man brought attention to a mental condition in which a person, who is barely able to care for himself and who has trouble doing even the simplest tasks, can also be a prodigy in one specialized area. What distinguishes these rare individuals is that though mentally handicapped overall, they possess the ability to do one thing brilliantly, a talent that would be considered spectacular and extraordinary even if it were found in a person of normal abilities. It is a true puzzle to see a person who may be unable to interact normally with other people or who might never change his or her clothes or take a shower unless told, display phenomenal calculating, artistic, or musical ability.

First named

The term "idiot savant" was first coined in 1887 by British physician John Langdon Haydon Down (18281896), after whom the genetic disorder Down syndrome was named. At that time, doctors actually used the word "idiot" to describe someone whose IQ was below a certain level. Down linked this term to the French word "savant," meaning "learned one," and put together a term that captured the essence of this bizarre and seemingly contradictory syndrome.

One of the earliest accounts of this phenomenon was given by American physician Benjamin Rush (17461813), who is considered to be the father of American psychiatry. In 1789, Rush described the phenomenal calculating capability of a severely retarded man named Thomas Fuller who, Rush said, "could comprehend scarcely anything, either theoretical or practical, more complex than counting." One example he gave of Fuller's unique ability was his answer to the question, How many seconds a person had lived who was seventy years, seventeen days, and twelve hours old? Fuller thought for only 90 seconds, then gave the correct answer of 22,210,500,800 seconds, even correcting for the seventeen leap years involved.

Words to Know

Autism: A disorder in development characterized by an inability to relate socially to other people and a severe withdrawal from external reality.

Genius: Extraordinary mental ability or creative power.

Intelligence: The ability to solve problems and cope successfully with one's surroundings.

Testosterone: A male sex hormone that stimulates sperm production and is responsible for male sex characteristics.

Modern name

Today, the term "autistic savant" has mostly replaced the harsh-sounding "idiot savant," although others sometimes prefer the more generic "savant syndrome." A person who is autistic (pronounced awe-TIS-tik) or suffers from the neurological condition called autism (pronounced AWE-tizm) is extremely withdrawn, self-preoccupied, and barely interacts with others. Autistic individuals usually seem very strange to most people, as they sometimes have coordination problems and often display unusual, inappropriate, or exaggerated mannerisms and reactions. Their language, if expressed, may be bizarre, and altogether they usually cannot get by on their own. Autism is chronic, meaning that it does not go away, and it is incapacitating, meaning that even as adults, autistic people usually need constant supervision and support. When a person who is severely disabled in so many ways is able to do one thing at an extraordinary or even a prodigious level, it is both shocking and amazing.

Characteristics

Some of the things that a person with this syndrome can do will truly amaze us. The most common form of autistic savant are the mathematical calculators, some of whom display incredible calendar memory or who can calculate square roots and prime numbers in their heads with no hesitation.

Some musical individuals have both perfect pitch and an endless memory for music. This means they can hear a complicated piece and immediately play it back perfectly from memory. Others are gifted artists. Despite these differences, there are certain characteristics that most share. First, this is a very rare condition, since by no means are all or even some autistic people so gifted. One author suggests that there may be no more than twenty-five or thirty "prodigious savants" living at present. A few artistic or musical savants are somewhat famous since they perform or exhibit their work.

Further, their special skills are always in an extremely deep but narrow range of abilities. For example, some of these great mathematical calculators do not possess even simple arithmetic skills. Another savant who had never received any musical instruction whatsoever could play anything she heard on a piano, yet still had the mental age of someone less than three years old. Also, in almost every case, there were very rigid limits as to what these people could actually do with the talent they had. So although one might be able to recite all manner of detail or facts about something, he or she would not be able to apply that information in any other way than the narrow method they were used to. Obviously, most of these impressive feats are tied in some way to memory, and almost all of these individuals have a phenomenal memory for detail. Finally, such persons are most often male, with the male-to-female ratio being roughly six-to-one.

Lack of theory

Medical science still does not have a single theory that is able to explain all the types of idiot savants. We do know that this condition can be both congenital (pronounced kon-JEN-ih-tul) meaning it exists at birth, or it can be caused or acquired through a certain type of brain injury or disease. One theory says that it is caused when the right side of the brain has to compensate for an injury of some sort to the left side. The skills associated with the brain's right hemisphere have more to do with concrete learning and artistic expression than the left side, whose skills are more abstract, logical, and symbolic. It is the right-side skills that the autistic savant possesses in great measure, while simultaneously possessing few or none of the left-side skills. Some speculate that this left-brain damage and right-brain compensation may occur while the individual is still a developing fetus. Others say that the high percentage of males suggests that the male hormone called testosterone (pronounced tess-TAHS-tur-own) is somehow involved during fetal development. However, all attempts to explain this phenomenon are still educated guesses, and most would readily admit that so far, science is completely baffled in trying to understand this amazing phenomenon.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Savant." UXL Encyclopedia of Science. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Savant." UXL Encyclopedia of Science. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 21, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/savant

"Savant." UXL Encyclopedia of Science. . Retrieved September 21, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/savant

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Savant Syndrome

Savant syndrome

Definition

Savant syndrome occurs when a person with below normal intelligence displays a special talent or ability in a specific area.

Description

Children who display savant syndrome have traditionally been referred to as idiot, retarded, or autistic savants. The negative connotations of the term "idiot" have led to the disuse of idiot savant. Because the syndrome is often associated with autism , the term autistic savant is more frequently heard. The first known description of a person displaying savant syndrome occurred in a German psychology journal in 1751. The term savant was first used in 1887 by J. Langdon Down (the doctor for whom Down syndrome is named).

Demographics

About half of all children with savant syndrome are autistic. Approximately 10 percent of all children with autism have savant syndrome. The rate increases to 25 percent of children with autism who have an IQ over 35. (Many autistic children have lower IQs.) About three times as many boys as girls have savant syndrome. This may be because more boys than girls are affected with autism. Less than 1 percent of the non-autistic population, including those with mental retardation and other developmental disorders, have savant syndrome.

Causes and symptoms

The causes of savant syndrome were as of 2004 not known. Some researchers hypothesize that it is caused by a change in a gene or genes, and others believe that it is caused by some kind of damage to the left hemisphere of the brain with compensation for this injury occurring in the right hemisphere. The reasons for the syndrome are not at all clear, however, and more research needs to be done.

Children with savant syndrome have an exceptional talent or skill in a particular area, such as the ability to process mathematical calculations at a phenomenal speed. Savant skills occur in a number of different areas, including music, visual arts, and mathematics. Experts believe that the most common skill demonstrated by savants is extraordinary memory. Children with savant syndrome may be able to memorize extensive amounts of data in such areas as sports statistics, population figures, and historical or biographical data. One particular skill common to those with savant syndrome is the ability to calculate what day of the week a particular date fell on or will fall on.

Diagnosis

Savant syndrome is diagnosed when a child's ability in one area is exceptionally higher than would be expected given his or her IQ or general level of functioning.

Treatment

Savant syndrome is not known to have any drawbacks, so it does not have to be treated itself. The underlying disorders that usually accompany savant syndrome need to be treated, and it is believed that making use of the special talent of the child with savant syndrome may help treat the child's underlying developmental disorders.

Prognosis

The special skill associated with savant syndrome in a specific child is usually present for life. There has been at least one report of the skill being lost when progress was gained in other areas, but this appears to be very rare. In general, if the level of the skill changes it improves as the skill is practiced.

Prevention

There is no known way to prevent savant syndrome.

Parental concerns

Children with savant syndrome have a very special skill that can be nurtured. These children may respond better to treatments for any underlying disorder that make use in some way of the childs special underlying interest and talent.

KEY TERMS

Autism A developmental disability that appears early in life, in which normal brain development is disrupted and social and communication skills are retarded, sometimes severely.

See also Autism.

Resources

BOOKS

Hermelin, Beate. Bright Splinters of the Mind: A Personal Story of Research with Autistics Savant. Philadelphia: J. Kingsley, 2001.

PERIODICALS

Bolte, Sven, and Fritz Poustka. "Comparing the Intelligence Profiles of Savant and Nonsavant Individuals with Autistic Disorder." Intelligence 32, no. 2 (June 2004): 121131.

WEB SITES

Edelson, Stephen M. "Autistic Savant." Center for the Study of Autism. Available online at <www.autism.org/savant.html> (accessed October 17, 2004).

Tish Davidson, A.M.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Savant Syndrome." Gale Encyclopedia of Children's Health: Infancy through Adolescence. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Savant Syndrome." Gale Encyclopedia of Children's Health: Infancy through Adolescence. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 21, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/savant-syndrome

"Savant Syndrome." Gale Encyclopedia of Children's Health: Infancy through Adolescence. . Retrieved September 21, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/savant-syndrome

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Savant Syndrome

Savant syndrome

A condition characterized by a combination of below normal intelligence and extraordinary mental abilities in one or a few narrow areas.

Persons who display savant syndrome have traditionally been called idiot savants, a term that many currently avoid because of its negative connotations. Alternate terms include retarded savant and autistic savant, the latter referring to the fact that savant syndrome is often associated with autism . It is difficult to arrive at an exact figure for the incidence of savant syndrome. A 1977 study found the incidence among the institutionalized mentally handicapped in the United States to be 0.06 percent of the population, or one in roughly 2,000. Most savants are males.

Savant skills occur in a number of different areas. Savants with musical abilities demonstrate an excellent ear for music from an early age, often including perfect pitch. They are able to reproduce melodies and even entire compositions with great accuracy and often show considerable performing talent, including both technical and interpretive skills. Others show unusual talent in the visual arts, which may include the ability to produce life-like reproductions at a very young age, when most children can turn out only primitive drawings. Some savants demonstrate a computer-like ability to perform difficult mathematical calculations at lightning speeds.

Perhaps the most common area where savants show extraordinary abilities is memory . They may memorize historical data, sports statistics, population figures, biographical information, or even telephone directories. One savant with uncommon musical abilities could also provide biographical information about the composer of almost any piece of music, as well as stating the key and opus of the piece. She could describe in detail every musical performance she had heard within a 20-year period and provide biographical information about every member of the local symphony orchestra. One particular type of memorization common to a large proportion of savants is calendar calculating, the ability to say what day of the week a particular date will fall (or has already fallen) on. Some savants can provide this type of information for periods covering hundreds of years.

Savants have been studied by researchers investigating such topics as the nature of human intelligence and the relative influence of heredity and environment .

Further Reading

Howe, Michael J. A. Fragments of Genius: The Strange Feats of Idiots Savants. London: Routledge, 1989.

Obler, L.K., and D. Fein, eds. The Exceptional Brain: Neuropsychology of Talent and Special Abilities. New York: Guilford Press, 1988.

Treffert, D.A. Extraordinary People. New York: Harper and Row, 1989.

Further Information

Autism Society of America (formerly National Society for Autistic Children). 8601 Georgia Ave., Suite 503, Silver Spring, MD 20910, (301) 5650433.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Savant Syndrome." Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Savant Syndrome." Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 21, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/savant-syndrome-0

"Savant Syndrome." Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology. . Retrieved September 21, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/savant-syndrome-0

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

savant

sa·vant / saˈvänt; sə-/ • n. a learned person, esp. a distinguished scientist.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"savant." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"savant." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 21, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/savant-0

"savant." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved September 21, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/savant-0

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

savant

savant man of learning. XVIII. — F., sb. use of orig. prp. of savoir know :- Rom. *sapēre, for L. sapere.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"savant." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"savant." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 21, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/savant-1

"savant." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Retrieved September 21, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/savant-1

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

savant

savantabeyant, mayn't •ambient, circumambient •gradient, irradiant, radiant •expedient, ingredient, mediant, obedient •valiant • salient • resilient • emollient •defoliant • ebullient • suppliant •convenient, intervenient, lenient, prevenient •sapient •impercipient, incipient, percipient, recipient •recreant • variant • miscreant •Orient • nutrient •esurient, luxuriant, parturient, prurient •nescient, prescient •omniscient • insouciant • renunciant •officiant • negotiant • deviant •subservient • transient •affiant, Bryant, client, compliant, defiant, giant, pliant, reliant •buoyant, clairvoyant, flamboyant •fluent, pursuant, truant •affluent • effluent • mellifluent •confluent • circumfluent • congruent •issuant • continuant • constituent •lambent • absorbent •incumbent, recumbent •couchant • merchant • hadn't •ardent, guardant, regardant •pedant •appendant, ascendant, attendant, codependent, defendant, descendant, descendent, intendant, interdependent, pendant, pendent, splendent, superintendent, transcendent •antecedent, decedent, needn't, precedent •didn't • diffident • confident •accident • dissident •coincident, incident •oxidant • evident •improvident, provident •president, resident •strident, trident •co-respondent, correspondent, despondent, fondant, respondent •accordant, concordant, discordant, mordant, mordent •rodent •imprudent, jurisprudent, prudent, student •couldn't, shouldn't, wouldn't •impudent •abundant, redundant •decadent • verdant • infant • elephant •triumphant • sycophant • elegant •fumigant • congregant • litigant •termagant • arrogant • extravagant •pageant •cotangent, plangent, tangent •argent, Sargent, sergeant •agent • newsagent • regent •astringent, contingent, stringent •indigent • intelligent • negligent •diligent • intransigent • exigent •cogent •effulgent, fulgent, indulgent •pungent •convergent, detergent, divergent, emergent, insurgent, resurgent, urgent •bacchant • peccant • vacant • piquant •predicant • mendicant • significant •applicant • supplicant • communicant •lubricant • desiccant • intoxicant •gallant, talent •appellant, propellant, propellent, repellent, water-repellent •resemblant •assailant, inhalant •sealant • sibilant • jubilant •flagellant • vigilant • pestilent •silent •Solent, volant •coolant • virulent • purulent •ambulant, somnambulant •coagulant • crapulent • flatulent •feculent • esculent • petulant •stimulant • flocculent • opulent •postulant • fraudulent • corpulent •undulant •succulent, truculent •turbulent • violent • redolent •indolent • somnolent • excellent •insolent • nonchalant •benevolent, malevolent, prevalent •ambivalent, equivalent •garment • clement • segment •claimant, clamant, payment, raiment •ailment •figment, pigment •fitment • aliment • element •oddment •dormant, informant •moment • adamant • stagnant •lieutenant, pennant, subtenant, tenant •pregnant, regnant •remnant • complainant •benignant, indignant, malignant •recombinant • contaminant •eminent •discriminant, imminent •dominant, prominent •illuminant, ruminant •determinant • abstinent •continent, subcontinent •appurtenant, impertinent, pertinent •revenant •component, deponent, exponent, opponent, proponent •oppugnant, repugnant •immanent •impermanent, permanent •dissonant • consonant • alternant •covenant • resonant • rampant •discrepant • flippant • participant •occupant • serpent •apparent, arrant, transparent •Arendt •aberrant, deterrent, errant, inherent, knight-errant •entrant •declarant, parent •grandparent • step-parent •godparent •flagrant, fragrant, vagrant •registrant • celebrant • emigrant •immigrant • ministrant • aspirant •antiperspirant • recalcitrant •integrant • tyrant • vibrant • hydrant •migrant, transmigrant •abhorrent, torrent, warrant •quadrant • figurant • obscurant •blackcurrant, concurrent, currant, current, occurrent, redcurrant •white currant • cross-current •undercurrent •adherent, coherent, sederunt •exuberant, protuberant •reverberant • denaturant •preponderant • deodorant •different, vociferant •belligerent, refrigerant •accelerant • tolerant • cormorant •itinerant • ignorant • cooperant •expectorant • adulterant •irreverent, reverent •nascent, passant •absent •accent, relaxant •acquiescent, adolescent, albescent, Besant, coalescent, confessant, convalescent, crescent, depressant, effervescent, erubescent, evanescent, excrescent, flavescent, fluorescent, immunosuppressant, incandescent, incessant, iridescent, juvenescent, lactescent, liquescent, luminescent, nigrescent, obsolescent, opalescent, pearlescent, phosphorescent, pubescent, putrescent, quiescent, suppressant, tumescent, turgescent, virescent, viridescent •adjacent, complacent, obeisant •decent, recent •impuissant, reminiscent •Vincent • puissant •beneficent, maleficent •magnificent, munificent •Millicent • concupiscent • reticent •docent •lucent, translucent •discussant, mustn't •innocent •conversant, versant •consentient, sentient, trenchant •impatient, patient •ancient • outpatient •coefficient, deficient, efficient, proficient, sufficient •quotient • patent •interactant, reactant •disinfectant, expectant, protectant •repentant • acceptant •contestant, decongestant •sextant •blatant, latent •intermittent •assistant, coexistent, consistent, distant, equidistant, existent, insistent, persistent, resistant, subsistent, water-resistant •instant •cohabitant, habitant •exorbitant • militant • concomitant •impenitent, penitent •palpitant • crepitant • precipitant •competent, omnicompetent •irritant • incapacitant • Protestant •hesitant • visitant • mightn't • octant •remontant • constant •important, oughtn't •accountant • potent •mutant, pollutant •adjutant • executant • disputant •reluctant •consultant, exultant, resultant •combatant • omnipotent • impotent •inadvertent •Havant, haven't, savant, savante •advent •irrelevant, relevant •pursuivant • solvent • convent •adjuvant •fervent, observant, servant •manservant • maidservant •frequent, sequent •delinquent • consequent •subsequent • unguent • eloquent •grandiloquent, magniloquent •brilliant • poignant • hasn't •bezant, omnipresent, peasant, pheasant, pleasant, present •complaisant • malfeasant • isn't •cognizant • wasn't • recusant •doesn't

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"savant." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"savant." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 21, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/savant

"savant." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved September 21, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/savant

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Savant

Savant

Talents of savants

Savant or genius

Causes of savant syndrome

Resources

Savants are people with extremely outstanding abilities, often in music, mathematics, memory, or art. Their talents stand in marked contrast to their intelligence in other areas, which is well below normal. For example, a savant who, given any date in the past hundred years, could say what day of the week it fell on, might not be able to perform simple tasks like tying his shoes or catching a bus. The cause of this condition, commonly labeled savant syndrome, has yet to be fully determined.

Savant syndrome was first formally described in 1877 by British physician J. Langdon Down, who lectured the Royal Society of London about develop-mentally disabled individuals he had seen performing amazing mental feats at Earlswood Asylum. Down called these people idiot savants because of their low level of intelligence. At that time the word idiot was the scientific classification for people who functioned at a two-year-old level, having IQs no higher than 25. Researchers today believe that the term idiot savant is misleading, because most savants, although developmentally disabled, function at higher levels of intelligence than this; all savants reported in medical and psychological literature have had IQs of at least 40.

Today, some people with savant syndrome are called autistic savants. This is because many savants suffer from infantile autism, a developmental disorder involving some degree of retardation that first shows itself during infancy. Disturbed social interactions are a key part of autism. Autistic children dislike being held or touched, avoid eye contact, have poorly developed communication skills, and often perform unusual repetitive behaviors such as head banging or rocking back and forth. The cause of autism is unknown.

In the hundred years that have passed since Down brought savants to the attention of the scientific community, hundreds of cases have been reported. Despite the level of interest it has generated, savant syndrome is a rare condition. Only an estimated one out of every 2,000 developmentally disabled people living in institutions can be called a savant. It is known that the rate of savant syndrome is as much as six times higher among males than among females. Some researchers believe that this is because more males are autistic than females. According to one study, about one in ten autistic children have special abilities that could classify them as savants.

Talents of savants

The kinds of talents displayed by savants throughout the last century are remarkably similar. Music and memory appear to be the most common skills displayed in savant syndrome. Often these two skills are tied together.

Most savants with musical skills express their talents by playing the piano, singing, or humming. One savant, an African American slave named Blind Tom, born in 1849, reportedly could play a different piece of music on the piano with each hand while singing a third.

The memory capacity displayed by many savants is truly astounding. Some savants have memorized entire telephone directories; others have memorized sporting statistics or everyone they have met during their adult lives. They might memorize entire books, or population figures for all the cities in the country in which they live.

Mathematical calculation talents reported in savants have ranged from being able to figure and report the cube roots of six digit numbers within seconds to calculating complex word problems which would take a normal person hours to solve. Calendar calculationthe ability to provide the day of the week on which a certain date fell or will fallis a talent of some savants that requires not only memorization of large quantities of material, but mathematical abilities as well. One set of twin savants reportedly can do this for a time span of 8,000 years.

The artistic talents of savants have been noted over the years. One three-year-old developmentally disabled girl could make accurate drawings of any animal that she saw. Some visually artistic savants seem to specialize in certain subjects. Other skills that some savants exhibit are the ability to memorize maps, an extremely sensitive sense of touch and smell, and the ability to measure the passage of time without a clock. Model building and memorization in languages the savant does not understand have also been recorded.

Savant or genius

The skills displayed by savants, whether they are memorizing and reciting entire books or instantly calculating the square root of any number, are unlike the high levels of individual skills sometimes displayed by people of normal intelligence. Savant skills often appear in an individual very suddenly, rather than developing over time; the abilities are fully formed, and dont increase as the savant grows older. One musical savant could hum complicated opera arias when she was six months old. Another, at the age of four, could flawlessly play the works of Mozart at the piano. In some cases, savant skills disappear just as suddenly as they appeared.

The skills of savants appear to be almost robotlike in nature. For example, a musical savant may be able to reproduce a complex musical piece after hearing it once, but if the original rendition contains a mistake, the savant will repeat that mistake. An artistic savant may be able to produce an impressive copy of a specific artists work, but most cannot evolve a recognizable style of his or her own.

Neither do savants seem able to make connections between their talents and the rest of their lives or the world around them. Further, they do not appear to be able to reason about what they are doing. For instance, a savant who can read and perfectly memorize a book containing the complete works of Shakespeare, even to the point of being able to recite a specific page of text when given a page number, probably cannot explain what those plays and poems mean. Furthermore, he or she might be unable to recall the same text if given some other cue, such as the title of a specific work. A musical savant will more than likely be unable to read music. A savant who can make complex mathematical calculations might be unable to make change for a dollar.

Savants skills do not seem to require their total attention. Many can play a piece of music, draw a picture, or make complex mathematical calculations while their mind appears to be elsewhere. They seem to exercise their talents without conscious effort, as if some part of their brain, unconnected to the rest, operates automatically.

KEY TERMS

Abstract thinking The ability to understand abstract concepts such as love, justice, truth and friendship.

Autism A developmental disorder that involves some degree of retardation along with disturbed social interactions.

Developmental disability The failure to pass through the normal stages of mental and emotional growth as one matures.

Intelligence The ability to solve problems and cope successfully with ones surroundings.

IQ A number calculated by dividing mental age as measured on an intelligence test by a childs chronological age.

Causes of savant syndrome

Researchers remain uncertain about what causes some developmentally disabled or autistic people to become savants. Some believe that certain savants have eidetic (intensely visual) memories. Their skills are based entirely on their ability to memorize. While this theory can account for some savant skills, it fails to explain others.

Some experts believe that intelligence is not a single quality, but rather that mental ability is separated into multiple intelligences which may be unrelated to one another. If this is true, it could explain how mental retardation or autism and savant skills can coexist in one person. Some experts suspect that developmentally disabled savants have inherited two separate genes, one for mental retardation and one for the special ability; however, only some savants have family histories that contain special skills.

Some researchers have speculated that autistic or developmentally disabled persons may receive only a limited amount of sensory stimulation. This low level of stimulation might be due to biological causes, or could be due to the fact that such people are sometimes ignored by others and live in relative isolation. According to this theory, the resulting boredom could lead to the development of super-intense concentration levels that normal people are unable to achieve. Again, this theory can account for some but not all savants.

Another theory holds that since savants cannot think abstractly, they come to rely entirely on concrete thinking, channeling all of their mental energy into one form of expression, be it art or calendar calculating. Finally, some researchers think that savants may have some brain injury or abnormality on the left side of the brain, the side which controls language, or to other areas of the brain which control abstract thinking. While this may be true for some savants, others show normal electrical activity in the brain when they are tested.

Resources

BOOKS

DeBlois, Janice, Antonia Felix. Some Kind of Genius: The Extraordinary Journey of Musical Savant Tony DeBlois. New York: Rodale, September 2005.

Hermelin, Beate, Michael Rutter. Bright Splinters of the Mind: A Personal Story of Research with Autistics Savant. London, UK: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, June 2001.

Sacks, Oliver. Vintage Sacks. London, UK: Vintage Publishing, January 2004.

Smith, Neilson Voyne. Language, Frogs and Savants: More Linguistic Problems. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing, October 2005.

Kay Marie Porterfield

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Savant." The Gale Encyclopedia of Science. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Savant." The Gale Encyclopedia of Science. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 21, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/savant-1

"Savant." The Gale Encyclopedia of Science. . Retrieved September 21, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/savant-1

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Savant

Savant

Savants are people with extremely outstanding abilities, often in music, mathematics , memory , or art. Their talents stand in marked contrast to their intelligence in other areas, which is well below normal. For example, a savant who, given any date in the past hundred years, could say what day of the week it fell on, might not be able to perform simple tasks like tying his shoes or catching a bus. The cause of this condition, commonly labeled savant syndrome , has yet to be fully determined.

Savant syndrome was first formally described in 1877 by British physician J. Langdon Down, who lectured the Royal Society of London about developmentally disabled individuals he had seen performing amazing mental feats at Earlswood Asylum. Down called these people idiot savants because of their low level of intelligence. At that time the word "idiot" was the scientific classification for people who functioned at a two-year-old level, having IQs no higher than 25. Researchers today believe that the term idiot savant is misleading, because most savants, although developmentally disabled, function at higher levels of intelligence than this; all savants reported in medical and psychological literature have had IQs of at least 40.

Today, some people with savant syndrome are called autistic savants. This is because many savants suffer from infantile autism , a developmental disorder involving some degree of retardation that first shows itself during infancy. Disturbed social interactions are a key part of autism. Autistic children dislike being held or touched, avoid eye contact, have poorly developed communication skills, and often perform unusual repetitive behaviors such as head banging or rocking back and forth. The cause of autism is unknown.

In the hundred years that have passed since Down brought savants to the attention of the scientific community, hundreds of cases have been reported. Despite the level of interest it has generated, savant syndrome is a rare condition. Only an estimated one out of every 2,000 developmentally disabled people living in institutions can be called a savant. It is known that the rate of savant syndrome is as much as six times higher among males than among females. Some researchers believe that this is because more males are autistic than females. According to one study, about one in ten autistic children have special abilities that could classify them as savants.


Talents of savants

The kinds of talents displayed by savants throughout the last century are remarkably similar. Music and memory appear to be the most common skills displayed in savant syndrome. Often these two skills are tied together.

Most savants with musical skills express their talents by playing the piano, singing, or humming. One savant, an African American slave named Blind Tom, born in 1849, reportedly could play a different piece of music on the piano with each hand while singing a third.

The memory capacity displayed by many savants is truly astounding. Some savants have memorized entire telephone directories; others have memorized sporting statistics or everyone they have met during their adult lives. They might memorize entire books, or population figures for all the cities in the country in which they live.

Mathematical calculation talents reported in savants have ranged from being able to figure and report the cube roots of six digit numbers within seconds to calculating complex word problems which would take a normal person hours to solve. Calendar calculation—the ability to provide the day of the week on which a certain date fell or will fall—is a talent of some savants that requires not only memorization of large quantities of material, but mathematical abilities as well. One set of twin savants reportedly can do this for a time span of 8,000 years.

The artistic talents of savants have been noted over the years. One three-year-old girl could make accurate drawings of any animal that she saw. Some visually artistic savants seem to specialize in certain subjects. Other skills that some savants exhibit are the ability to memorize maps, an extremely sensitive sense of touch and smell , and the ability to measure the passage of time without a clock. Model building and memorization in languages the savant does not understand have also been recorded.


Savant or genius

The skills displayed by savants, whether they are memorizing and reciting entire books or instantly calculating the square root of any number, are unlike the high levels of individual skills sometimes displayed by people of normal intelligence. Savant skills often appear in an individual very suddenly, rather than developing over time; the abilities are fully formed, and don't increase as the savant grows older. One musical savant could hum complicated opera arias when she was six months old. Another, at the age of four, could flawlessly play the works of Mozart at the piano. In some cases, savant skills disappear just as suddenly as they appeared.

The skills of savants appear to be almost robot-like in nature. For example, a musical savant may be able to reproduce a complex musical piece after hearing it once, but if the original rendition contains a mistake, the savant will repeat that mistake. An artistic savant may be able to produce an impressive copy of a specific artist's work, but most cannot evolve a recognizable style of his or her own.

Neither do savants seem able to make connections between their talents and the rest of their lives or the world around them. Further, they do not appear to be able to reason about what they are doing. For instance, a savant who can read and perfectly memorize a book containing the complete works of Shakespeare, even to the point of being able to recite a specific page of text when given a page number, probably cannot explain what those plays and poems mean. Furthermore, he or she might be unable to recall the same text if given some other cue, such as the title of a specific work. A musical savant will more than likely be unable to read music. A savant who can make complex mathematical calculations might be unable to make change for a dollar.

Savants' skills do not seem to require their total attention. Many can play a piece of music, draw a picture, or make complex mathematical calculations while their mind appears to be elsewhere. They seem to exercise their talents without conscious effort, as if some part of their brain , unconnected to the rest, operates automatically.


Causes of savant syndrome

Researchers remain uncertain about what causes some developmentally disabled or autistic people to become savants. Some believe that certain savants have eidetic (intensely visual) memories. Their skills are based entirely on their ability to memorize. While this theory can account for some savant skills, it fails to explain others.

Some experts believe that intelligence is not a single quality, but rather that mental ability is separated into multiple intelligences which may be unrelated to one another. If this is true, it could explain how mental retardation or autism and savant skills can coexist in one person. Some experts suspect that developmentally disabled savants have inherited two separate genes, one for mental retardation and one for the special ability; however, only some savants have family histories that contain special skills.

Some researchers have speculated that autistic or developmentally disabled persons may receive only a limited amount of sensory stimulation. This low level of stimulation might be due to biological causes, or could be due to the fact that such people are sometimes ignored by others and live in relative isolation. According to this theory, the resulting boredom could lead to the development of super-intense concentration levels that normal people are unable to achieve. Again, this theory can account for some but not all savants.

Another theory holds that since savants cannot think abstractly, they come to rely entirely on concrete thinking, channeling all of their mental energy into one form of expression, be it art or calendar calculating. Finally, some researchers think that savants may have some brain injury or abnormality on the left side of the brain, the side which controls language, or to other areas of the brain which control abstract thinking. While this may be true for some savants, others show normal electrical activity in the brain when they are tested.


Resources

books

Howe, Michael. Fragments of Genius: The Strange Feats of Idiots Savants. New York: Routledge, 1989.


periodicals

Dalphonse, Sherri. "The Mysterious Powers of Peter Guthrie." Reader's Digest 142 (February 1993): 859.

Sacks, Oliver. "A Neurologists Notebook: Prodigies." The New Yorker (9 January 1995): 44-65.


Kay Marie Porterfield

KEY TERMS

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Abstract thinking

—The ability to understand abstract concepts such as love, justice, truth and friendship.

Autism

—A developmental disorder that involves some degree of retardation along with disturbed social interactions.

Developmental disability

—The failure to pass through the normal stages of mental and emotional growth as one matures.

Intelligence

—The ability to solve problems and cope successfully with one's surroundings.

IQ

—A number calculated by dividing mental age as measured on an intelligence test by a child's chronological age.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Savant." The Gale Encyclopedia of Science. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Savant." The Gale Encyclopedia of Science. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 21, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/savant-0

"Savant." The Gale Encyclopedia of Science. . Retrieved September 21, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/savant-0

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.