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What’s New: 2014


Update: April 18, 2014

A one-day online conference on Savant Syndrome

Once each month Autism Cymru—Wale’s pioneering National Charity for Autism—holds a one day online conference open to all, hosted by Adam Feinstein. On April 29, the conference will be on savant syndrome conducted by Dr. Treffert. Online participants can review his latest paper on the “Myths and Realities of Savant Syndrome,” and then ask questions online. Further description and registration information can be accessed at www.awares.org/conferences.

Update: April 14, 2014

Fran Peek: 1925-2014

It is with sadness I report that Fran Peek, Kim’s Dad, died April 5, 2014 in Salt Lake City. Kim preceded him in death in 2009. Together they were an inspiration to so many — Kim with his mountain of memory and Fran with his mountain of love and caring for, and about, Kim.

Kim always said he and his Dad “shared the same shadow.” And what a broad, enlightening and inspiring shadow it was. Fran and Kim were presenters at the 2008 Wisconsin Medical Society Foundation dinner and like Kim, those present will never forget that memorable night.

And I will never forget these two very good friends who will in my mind, always share the same inspiring shadow.

—Darold Treffert, MD

Update: April 2014

Origin of the term ‘idiot savant’: a correction

While at this time it really doesn’t matter since the obsolete term “idiot savant” fortunately has been replaced by savant syndrome, from an accurate historical perspective, origin of that term preceded Dr. J. Langdon Down’s use of it in his 1887 lectures and writings. Michelle Dawson points that out in her “The idiot savant story” blog which appeared in an April, 2012 posting in The Autism Crisis.

In that blog, Dawson points out that Edouard Seguin used the term “idiot savant” in an 1870 paper, and in 1875, in an article the British Medical Journal George W. Grabham refers to Seguin’s paper and takes issue with the fact that Seguin’s observation that “idiot savants” seemed to occur more often in the “wealthier classes;” Grabham found such cases also “from parents of humble circumstances” and felt there were some hereditary factors at work.

Dawson’s blog provides quotes from both Seguin and Grabham’s articles, which point out the differences between them with respect to “classes” and savant syndrome. What I found most interesting though is Seguin’s description of savant skills in his day: “musical, mathematical, architectural and other varieties of the idiot savant: the useless protrusion of a single faculty, accompanied by a woeful general impotence.” Those are the same special skills seen today.

Grabham’s description of savant skills is equally descriptive and colorful: “one or more faculties are amazingly developed perhaps to the detriment of the rest. One has a marvelous power of acquiring languages and musical knowledge; another great mechanical skill and original constructive ability; a third, though very childish, is no mean mental arithmetician; a fourth remembers all he reads; a fifth delights in dates; while a sixth can tell the time when awakened from sleep.” Those also are the same special skills seen in modern times.

In his lectures and writings Down never claimed to have coined the term “idiot savant;” in fact he described his dislike of it. It would be more proper then to indicate Down “used” the term already created to describe his 10 cases of savant syndrome. I am indebted to Michelle Dawson for doing the more extensive background on the term, and apologize to Seguin and Grabham for missing their earlier use of the term and their interesting discussion of the condition.

In my 1980 review article in The American Journal of Psychiatry, “The Idiot Savant: A Review of the Syndrome” I suggested the term “savant syndrome” replace the outdated term “idiot savant.” Fortunately, that has taken place and “idiot savant” can be seen now only in its historical perspective.

—Darold Treffert, MD

Update: March 2014

Savant Syndrome: Realities, Myths and Misconceptions

The March 2014 issue of the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders contains Dr. Treffert’s review article on the “Realities, Myths and Misconceptions of Savant Syndrome.” (2014;Vol 44[Issue 3]:564-571.)

Update: January 30, 2014

Islands of Genius available now in Arabic and Czech

Islands of Genius: The Bountiful Mind of the Autistic, Acquired and Sudden Savant has been translated into Arabic and Czech. The Arabic translation is published by Arab Scientific Publishers in Lebanon. A 10-minute DVD is included with the Arabic version, which provides video footage of a number of savants highlighted in the text.

Update: January 27, 2014

Lost in Autism, found by golf

An article titled “Lost in Autism, found by golf” by Claudia Mazzucco appeared in the July, 2013 issue of GOLFDIGEST.COM. In it, she tells of her remarkable progress overall, since being diagnosed with autism as a child, as well as her progress vocationally.

Mazzucco found golf courses very quiet and tranquil and walked them often. Her “captivation with numbers” and “photographic memory for dates and names” was the perfect combination to record scores of every player, in every round, in every major tournament in Argentina as a class project. In so doing, she became the official librarian at the Argentina Golf Association. She also learned English, much of it from instruction articles in golf magazines. She now also teaches an online history course to apprentices seeking to join the PGA of Argentina.