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2013 Archive

Update: Sept. 10, 2013

Fact Sheet offers information on savant skills and educational strategies

Dr. Trevor Clark has developed specific educational strategies for approaching and enhancing savant and splinter skills, using combined gifted and special autism educational strategies. This Savant Skill Fact Sheet gives some background on savant skills and the educational strategies that are helpful in approaching and enhancing them. Dr. Clark is Director of Education and Research, Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect). For more information, Dr. Clark can be reached at savant_clark@hotmail.com.

Update: July 15, 2013

Commentary by Treffert posted on Scientific American’s MIND blog

Scientific American’s MIND blog featured an invited commentary last week by Dr. Treffert titled “Oops! When “Autism” Isn’t Autistic Disorder: Hyperlexia and Einstein Syndrome.” In it, he provides brief descriptions of hyperlexia and Einstein Syndrome and explains why the presence of these conditions doesn’t necessarily indicate a symptom of autism. Click here to read the July 8 commentary.

Update: June 25, 2013

The Spark: A mother’s story of nurturing genius

It was about 5 years ago that Jacob Barnett’s mother and I corresponded about her profoundly gifted/prodigy son who, at age 2, had been given a diagnosis of Asperger’s Disorder. A great number of things—all of them good—have happened since that time. Jacob began taking college-level courses in math, astronomy and physics at age 8 and was accepted into a university at age 9. Now, at age 14, Jacob has had this paper published in the prestigious physics journal Physical Review A: “Origin of Maximal Symmetry Breaking in Even PT-Symmetric Lattices.” This summer Jacob began working with the highly regarded Perimeter Institute of Advanced Studies based in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.

Jacob’s mother, Kristine Barnett, has written a new book titled The Spark: A mother’s story of nurturing genius. The book is a marvelous example of discovering and then “training the talent” to whatever heights it can be taken. It is an inspirational road map of love, and advocacy, for parents of other children with savant skills at whatever level they present, and highlights the role of mentors and other methods of truly individualizing, and improvising “outside the lines” of conventional education systems that can often be too stereotyped and rigid for these extraordinary children with special giftedness.

When I first talked with Jacob’s mother I told her there would be many surprises ahead. And indeed there have been for Jacob. That is advice Jacob’s mother has always remembered and treasured and she passes that on to many other moms. In the closing paragraphs of the book, Jacob’s mother also advises parents to “fuel a child’s innate spark” because “it will always point the way to greater heights than you could have imagined.” Her hope is that sharing Jacob’s story will encourage other similar families to help their children, whatever their level of functioning, to “unfurl their wings—past any horizon, past even our wildest expectations.” I think this book will do just that. Jacob can be seen via various links at www.jacobbarnett.com.

—Darold Treffert, MD

Update: May 21, 2013

Derek Paravicini: A truly prodigious musical savant

Once or twice a century there comes along a savant who is a giant among other musical savants who demonstrate the remarkable triad of blindness, musical genius and mental handicap. Three such giants in this rare but sensational condition are Blind Tom, Leslie Lemke and Derek Paravicini. This clip from a recent TEDx/Warwck program shows how far Derek has come with his incredible talent. One wonders what’s next?

Update: May 10, 2013

Follow-up on Nandana and telepathy

Nadana is a 9-year-old autistic girl in Sharjah, Dubai, whose extraordinary ability to read her mother’s mind was described in the article linked to in the March 28 post below. Dr Treffert was intrigued by her abilities, and his follow-up in described in this article titled “Mind reading Sharjah Girl ‘exceedingly rare’ savant,” also written by Sajila Saseendran and posted on the Khaleej Times website. The article indicates there will be more studies ahead on this fascinating case.

Update: May 1, 2013

CLARITY in brain research

“Scientists have developed a technique to make brains transparent, enabling them to see vast networks of neurons and structures for a big picture view of the organ that’s mostly studied in slices,” reports Elizabeth Lopatto in an article posted on Bloomberg.com.

While many advances in brain research involve imaging, this new breakthrough actually views the brain, tracks and neurons themselves, rather than images or blood flow. Interestingly, one of the human brains studied thus far was from a person with autism. I would consider this a major advance in brain research.

—Darold Treffert, MD

Update: March 28, 2013

Extraordinary telepathy as a savant skill

In our 2010 savant syndrome registry—which included 319 savants worldwide—paranormal, psi or related phenomenon were reported in 1% of cases. Now comes this article titled “Miracle Girl” by Sajila Saseendran from the Khaleej Times, Dubai, which documents in unusual detail the telepathic ability of a 9-year-old girl to read her mother’s mind. The article also cites a letter from child psychiatry specialists in Sunny Specialty Medical Center in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, certifying witnessing “the strength of Nandana to read her mother’s thoughts, desires and intentions.” This is the most highly documented case of this extraordinarily rare savant skill that has come to my attention.

Interestingly, in 1978 Dr. Bernie Rimland reported 561 cases (approximately 10%) of savant syndrome in his sample of 5400 autistic children, based on parent reports. Parents of 4 of these 561 savants reported that their child had extrasensory perception. I describe this finding in more detail in my Extraordinary People book, pages 127-128 and in my 1988 review paper.

—Darold Treffert, MD

Update: March 21, 2013

Exploring Temple Grandin’s Brain

The imaging of Temple Grandin’s brain is the focus of this article in the April issue of Discover magazine. The piece is particularly interesting for several reasons. First, it uses three forms of imaging: MRI, DTT and functional MRI. Second, on all three forms of imaging the right brain dominates, in keeping with clinical observations through the years on savant syndrome that the skills seen in the savant are typically right brain skills, compared to left brain abilities. In Temple’s case the “enlarged left ventricle is a sign of abnormalities in her left hemisphere, which typically handles language, and may account for difficulties she has with processing words.” Such left-sided damage has been evident in some other savants as well, but usually with only one modality of imaging.

Update: February 19, 2013

Accidental Genius: A report

The March Issue of Popular Science carries a rather extensive story on the acquired savant that can be accessed here. The story begins with a focus on Derek Amato, but then covers other such cases and the science behind them.

Update: February 1, 2013

A transient acquired savant syndrome/Foreign Accent Syndrome

Alun Morgan is now 81 years old. As a child, he was evacuated to Wales during World War II, but left there 70 years ago at age 10. Even though he was surrounded by Welsh speakers, he never learned the Welsh language and since age 10 has lived in England. This gentleman recently suffered a stroke. When he regained consciousness three weeks later, he was speaking Welsh (which never learned) and could not remember any English. He is now learning English again. Other cases of Foreign Accent Syndrome have been reported, but in this case the post-stroke language substitution was not just accent, but an entire language dormant until released post-stroke.

Update: January 20, 2013

Accidental Genius: A live discussion

By the use of Google Circle HuffPost Live aired a discussion featuring two acquired savants (Derek Amato & Jon Sarkin) with Dr. Treffert and a Science Editor of HuffPost.  The program can be accessed here: http://huff.lv/SEYPTP.