Autism And Savant Syndrome Essay

1976 words - 8 pages

Autism And Savant Syndrome

A little boy quietly sits in front of a piano, with his fingers poised over the bright white keys. His teacher, seated beside him on the bench, plays a complicated series of chords, filling the air with a beautiful melody. After a single hearing, the boy begins to play, perfectly reproducing the song he has just heard. As the last notes fade away, the boy sits still for a moment and then begins to rock gently back and forth, only stopping once the music begins again....

A genius. A prodigy. One might label this child as such after witnessing this type of performance, were it not for the little nuances of the situation: the rocking, the cold, unemotional expression on the boy's face, and his lack of response to the voices around him. Instead, this boy is diagnosed with Savant Syndrome, a disorder in which individuals with neurological developmental delays in socialization and communication (3) possess "astonishing islands of brilliance that stand in stark, markedly incongruous contrast to the over-all handicap" (6). From absolute pitch and chess playing skill to the card-counting talent popularized by Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, savants may be developmentally delayed, but certainly posses a genius of sorts that is almost unmatchable. In this respect, I am fascinated by the biological and societal origins and significance of the existence of individuals with an IQ well below average who are capable of performing tasks about which some geniuses could only dream. The implications of these individuals are huge in terms of genetics, the nature of intelligence and the varying processes of thought present within humanity. I find that it is the presence of a "weakness" such as autism and its developmental delays which allows for the stroke of genius present in savants. The idea that the brain has plans of its own which is does not communicate to the I-function is certainly an amazing concept in its scope.

These developmental delays are classified as pervasive developmental disorders (PDD). Autism is considered to be the most significant of these PDD's. It is a neurological disorder in which affected individuals have impaired social interaction, problems with verbal and nonverbal communication, and unusual or severely limited activities and interests (2). Often, autistic people have specific routines from which they refuse to deviate, as well as restricted patterns or interests that are considered to be abnormal in their intensity and focus. These habits, like autism itself, vary over a wide range, and may include hair twirling and rocking in mild cases to self-injurious behavior such as head-banging in more severe cases. Autistic individuals have difficulty making friends and sustaining conversations, often fail to respond to stimuli, including their own names, and usually are retarded in their language development. For these reasons, they are often considered to be aloof and unemotional (2). Their intelligence...

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