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Explanations of Savantism in Autistic Individuals (Part 3)

January 13th, 2011


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Brunswick (2001) attests to this idea that autistic individuals are completely shut off from the world, and it is this isolation that motivates a select few to become absorbed into a particular field as a means of connecting with the world. Babies with autism appear to be developing normally until the age of two when social learning begins to contribute increasingly to the cognitive development of the children in question. Most of this learning takes place through processes of teaching by a caregiver and spontaneous imitation on the part of the toddler. However, because as autistic children gain greater knowledge of the physical world, their appreciation and discernment of human interaction fails to keep pace, and as a result, they are inclined to ignore other humans in favor of inanimate objects, to which they becoming increasingly attached. Data has verified this assertion when it was discovered that autistic individuals out perform the typically developing controls in the Wechsler Block Design Test, demonstrating the advantage that autistic participants have evolved through their “enhanced ability to mentally segment designs into their constituent parts. ” (Heavey et al. 1999, p. 146). It has been discovered that savants are more likely to engage in repetitious behaviors and among those with autism, the savants were more likely to possess one single interest, showing more obsessional attitudes towards their ability. Additionally, savant skills can be found in individuals where autism is not diagnosed. Therefore, it is more logical to conclude that an internal concentration on the skills rather than a biological predisposition determined by this disorder is at play

To counteract the claims pertaining to IQ and the ability of savant individuals to overcome such low general intelligence by biological function to achieve such great abilities, one must explore the biological explanation of IQ that Anderson (1998) cites. In his explanation, IQ is determined by the speed of neural conductivity within the brain, operating on the principle that knowledge is not the equivalent of intelligence to explain savantism. Further evidence goes on to argue that inspection time (IT) tasks provide the best calculable scale of speed processing, necessitating that participants make simple discriminations between two or more pieces of data (Scheuffgen, Happe, Anderson Firth, 2000). It has been found that the autistic group had the same inspection time as did normally developing individuals, regardless of the large gaps in IQ scores between each group, providing evidence that the modern IQ tests are not accurate in determining an individual’s true intelligence and ability.

The strong hereditary evidence suggesting that a much higher percentage of autistic individuals possess certain skills than the rest of the general population is a potent claim. However, knowing that not every savant is diagnosed with autism believes me to think that there is another factor involved, such as motivation, in addition to any biological evidence of predisposition. Also, with the discovery and understanding of a new, more practical IQ test that assesses inspection time, it appears that autistic individuals are more like normally developing people than was previously considered, providing strong evidence that in fact, these abilities are present because the autistic savant works towards them rather than has a mystical biological inclination towards them. Due to the feelings of isolation overall and the already predisposition for children and adults with autism to act in repetitive and often compulsive obsessional ways, that despite any evidence of increased blood flow and regional activity in the brain, savants possess their skills as a result of persistent focus and motivation, mostly excluding biological factors.


Anderson, Mike. (1998). Mental retardation general intelligence and modularity.

Learning and Individual Differences, 10, 1-9.

Brown, Walter A. Cammuso, K. Sachs, H. Winklosky, B. Mullane, J. Bernier, R.

Svenson, S. Arin, D. Rosen-Sheidley, B. Folstein, S. (2003). Autism-related

language, personality, and cognition in people with absolute pitch: Results of a preliminary study. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 33, 163-167.

Brunswick, Natheniel L. (2001). Social learning and etiology of autism. New

Ideas in Psychology, 19, 49-75.

Heavey, L. Pring, L. Hermelin, B. (1999). A date to remember: The nature of

memory in savant calendrical calculators. Psychological Medicine, 29, 145-160.

Miller, Leon K. (1999). The savant syndrome: Intellectual impairment and exceptional

skill. Psychological Bulletin, 125, 31-46.

Scheuffgen, K. Happe, F. Anderson, M. Firth, U. (2000). High “intelligence,” low

“IQ”? Speed processing and measured IQ in children with autism.

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