Savant syndrome

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Savant syndrome is a rare condition in which a person with a significant disability also has an unusually advanced skill, possibly without any practice.


While the existence of savants has been reported throughout history, the condition wasn't named until 1887. John Langdon Down (after whom Down syndrome is named) first used the word "savant" to describe a man who could calculate large sums very quickly.[1]

The term for savant syndrome was initially "idiot savant." The term "idiot" used to be a medical term for someone with a measured IQ below 25.[1] Since the word has taken on derogatory connotations, and since not all savants have intellectual disabilities, we now say "savant syndrome" instead.


Around half of savants are autistic. Around 10% of autistic people are estimated to be savants (though the actual number may be lower). Men are more likely than women to have savant skills.[2] This may be because autism is more commonly seen in men than in women.

Autistic savants are psychologically different from autistic people who have no savant skills. Compared to the average autistic person, savants had heightened sensory sensitivities, more "obsessive" behavior, better systemizing and technical/spatial abilities, and a different approach to learning tasks.[3]

These skills may be present from an early age or acquired after illness or injury.[2] A few cases of sudden onset of a savant skill in non-autistic people with no known causes have been reported.[4]

Savant skills[edit]

Many savant skills involve memory in some capacity.

The most common areas of skill in savant syndrome are:

  • Art
  • Calendar calculating
  • Math
  • Music
  • Spatial/mechanical skills

Other possible areas include languages, sensory discrimination, telling time without a clock, and other academic subjects (like statistics or history).[2]

Savants often feel a strong compulsion to practice these skills, showing an obsessive focus that allows them to create excellent work.[5]

It's extremely rare for a savant to lose their skills. The skill typically remains stable or improves even further with practice.[2] Schools may choose to educate child savants in their field of talent to encourage this skill and make it fun for the student.

Savant woo[edit]

Some people claim that disabled people having savant skills is evidence that God is real.[6][7] If God is to give some people serious disadvantages in life, then it would only be fair to give them an awesome skill too, right? But this argument falls apart when you consider the many people with disabilities who don't have savant skills.

See also[edit]