December 4, 2012
Accidental Genius: Three Extraordinary Examples
On December 1, 60 Minutes Australia broadcast a program on “Accidental Genius” featuring three cases of acquired savant syndrome–a musician, a calendar calculator with hyperthymestic memory, and a sculptor. The program, which is 14 minutes long, was very well done and can be accessed here.
Extraordinary Minds: To the Best of our Knowledge
Public Radio, including Wisconsin Public Radio, will broadcast a program titled “Extraordinary Minds” on December 2, 2012. The broadcast, which will include interviews with Dr. Treffert and Daniel Tammet addressing the topic of savant syndrome, can be accessed now at www.http://ttbook/extraordinary-minds. There, one will find the segments as edited for the radio broadcast, as well as the interviews in their entirety.
Savant skills educational strategies and curriculum
Dr. Trevor Clark has a special interest in developing teaching strategies and specific curriculum for persons with savant syndrome. Through his work, he has developed an educational strengths-based curiculum (the Savant Skill Curriculum) that combines education of gifted children strategies (enrichment, acceleration, and mentorship) with autism education (visual supports and social stories). The aim of these strategies is to develop functional skills which, when applied, show gains in behavior, social skills, academic self-esteem and communication skills. (Click here to download Dr. Clark’s fact sheet about autism and savant skills, along with a sample suggested curriculum in a specific case example.)
Further information about Dr. Clark’s work and savant skills curriculum can be obtained by contacting him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A hidden Picasso
This article by William Langley in the Calgary Herald is a succinct synopsis regarding several recent acquired savant cases and some of the ongoing research on this remarkable phenomenon. Dr. Treffert has about 30 such cases now, with others coming to attention infrequently.
Acquired savants tap a reservoir of talent and ability along with an innate knowledge of the rules of music, art or mathematics, which demonstrates convincingly that they “know things they never learned.” The only way such imbedded skills and knowledge can be there innately, in Dr. Treffert’s view, is through the genetic transfer of such knowledge and abilities. They come “factory installed” and remain dormant, in all of us, until tapped by some central nervous system illness or catastrophe, perhaps as a back-up system. The challenge is how to tap those dormant abilities—the little Rain Man within us all—non-intrusively without some obtrusive central nervous system event. That is where research is focused now. Stay tuned.
Autism and seizure disorders
Silently Seizing, a book written by Caren Haines, contains a chapter on “Temporal Lobe Epilepsy: the Great Pretender” by Dr. Treffert. Haines is the mother of an autistic son who is also a savant.
As many as 30 percent of persons with autism have a seizure disorder, often unrecognized. Dr. Treffert has had a longtime research interest in temporal lobe epilepsy and points out that partial complex seizures such as those originating in the temporal lobe can be disguised as panic attacks, compulsive behaviors or other symptoms. Dr. Nancy Minshaw also has had extensive experience in recognizing and treating seizure disorders of all types and provides up to date information on diagnosing and treating epilepsy when it is comorbid with autism.
The book chronicles this mother’s long journey in seeking answers to unusual and atypical symptoms and behaviors that were, in the end, seizure-related rather than autism related. It provides good understanding in an often misunderstood area of diagnosis and treatment in autism spectrum disorders when epilepsy also confounds the clinical picture.
On the trail of long-buried memories
Doreen Carvajal is a writer for The New York Times. In this story, she reflects on some of her early family origins. In so doing, Ms. Carvajal corresponded with Dr. Treffert regarding the role of genetic memory, perhaps, in both producing the need to explore the existence of such dormant memories, as well as a mechanism for their presence and retrieval. As noted elsewhere on this site, Dr. Treffert believes genetic memory plays a prominent role explaining how both congenital and acquired savants “know things they never learned”, and how they also “remember things they never knew.” Click here to read more about genetic memory.
An accidental artist
In this Philadelphia Inquirer post, columnist Monica Kinney tells the story of Ric Owens, a food service manager without any prior art interest or ability, whose prolific artistic talent emerged after recovering from a severe concussion in a 2011 automobile accident during which his vehicle was rear-ended by a semi.
Ric says that “something happened in his brain that changed him forever” in that “the world looks different.” He already has over 300 pieces in his gallery.
His autobiographical story and gallery can be accessed at his website and you can read more about acquired savant syndrome on this site.
Amanda LaMunyon: Award winning activist for autism awareness and research
The awards continue for Amanda LaMunyon. She recently was featured on Morning Express with Robin Meade as seen on this clip in the “Breakthrough Woman” series. The award was not just for her skills, but also for her ongoing activism for autism awareness and research.
Accidental Genius and the Acquired Savant
With several recent cases drawing international attention, such as Jason Padgett and his appearance on Nightline, there has been increasing attention to “accidental genius” and the ‘acquired savant.” This post from The Atlantic addresses that topic. Postings on this website for some time have provided background on the acquired savant and genetic memory and it is gratifying to see increasing interest in that topic because of the far-reaching implications for hidden potential within us all. Those topics also are addressed in greater depth in Islands of Genius: The Bountiful Mind of the Autistic, Acquired and Sudden Savant.
The acquired savant: A startling new case
The acquired savant is discussed in some detail on this site. Add to those cases Jason Padgett now that his story has aired on Nightline and other programs. Jason acquired not only dormant math knowledge and capacity, but also acquired synesthesia. After his head injury from a mugging, images began to appear spontaneously. While not particularly interested in drawing previously or having the ability, Jason began to draw what he was seeing and discovered the images were actually fractals. The images are striking and incredibly accurate. You can read and see more about Jason and the acquired savant here.
Matt Savage the graduate
Since the story of Matt Savage first appeared here when he was age 12, it is hard to believe Matt has now graduated from the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. He did so on his 29th birthday. Matt maintained a 3.99 grade point average at Berklee and hopes to attend graduate school so he can add teaching to his many musical endeavors. As this Boston Globe article points out, Matt produced his first jazz album at age 7, formed his own band at age 8 and now performs worldwide. This article provides an inspirational update on an amazing young man. It has been a privilege to know him, to follow his career these past eight years and now to provide this high achievement update. Congratulations, Matt!
February 20, 2012
Taylor Crowe lecture April 18: Finding the gifts/using the strengths
At the invitation of Dr. Treffert, Taylor Crowe and his father David Crowe will be giving a lecture April 18, 2012 at Marian University in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. Taylor, now a young adult, (www.taylorcrowe.com), will provide insights on what life with autism has been like, including how his extraordinary art skills have been a “conduit for growth” toward a career and independence. Taylor graduated from the prestigious California Institute of the Arts in character animation.
Inspired by Taylor’s progress from late onset autism, Taylor’s father David now lectures on the topic and established the Tailor Institute (http://www.the tailorinstitute.org), which is dedicated to helping high functioning individuals on the autism spectrum harness their special skills and gifts, find the tools they need to work with, and achieve their full potential and independence. Taylor’s father will discuss the evolution and success of that institute.
February 14, 2012
The “Genius of Earlswood Asylum” has a new home
It was in 1887 that Dr. J. Langdon Down provided the first description of savant syndrome. Dr. Down is better known for having described—at that same time—Down’s Syndrome (trisomy 21). He was Superintendent of the Royal Earlswood Asylum in London at the time, and one of its most famous residents was an early savant named James Pullen, the “Genius of Earlswood Asylum.” (Pullen is described in more detail in a profile on this site.)
Recently, The Langdon Down Museum of Learning Disabilities opened at the site of the old Normansfield Hospital in South London. While that hospital—like Royal Earlswood—has closed, the museum exists now on the old hospital property in what was the home of Dr. Down, his wife Mary and their children. Several of the museum’s prize exhibits are some of Pullen’s extraordinary works including his mechanical “giant” and two very large, carved ships—the Princess Alexander and The Great Eastern. A recent article in The Guardian provides more detail on this interesting museum and its role in maintaining some items pertinent to the early history of savant syndrome.