Savantism is a neurological condition derived from autism – with a twist. “Savants” were formerly coined “Idiot-Savants”, as in the past, those born with the condition were condemned to mental institutions for their atypical social behavior. As the years progressed, acting “abnormally” became less taboo, and it was realized that these extraordinary individuals made up for their social inadequacies by excelling in a particular area – be it art, math or music. Here’s a list of exceptional people whose unique skills border the paranormal…
10. Henriett Seth-F
Hungarian born Henriett is particularly unique, considering she falls within the 16 percent minority of female savants. After her birth in 1980, she was soon diagnosed with a neurological disorder after failure to make eye contact, general reclusiveness and chronic “echolalia”, a condition which meant she involuntarily repeated the last words said to her. However, she was playing the flute by age seven and was painting by age 13. This prolific writer has also won the XIIth International Literature Competition, Geza Gardonyi Prize for art and had several books and articles published, including “Autism: Another World”.
9. Thristan Mendoza
Thristan, nicknamed “Tum-tum”, was accredited as a child prodigy by the University of the Philippines in 1997. He was born in Quezon City in 1989 and was diagnosed as autistic aged two and a half. Shortly after this diagnosis, he was recognized as Savant due to his note-perfect marimba performances. Despite his social nervousness, fear of bright lights and loud noises, he is currently at college, majoring in percussion. He also excels in math.
8. Tony DeBlois
In 1975, American Tony DeBlois was not only born autistic, but blind. His lack of sight resulted in a remarkable elevation of another sense – hearing. Tony was playing the piano by age two and has over 20 instruments in his repertoire, with jazz as his preferred genre. He graduated from Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts in 1996 and now plays solo concerts worldwide, in-between jamming with his band, “Goodnuf”.
7. Jerry and Mary Newport
Savant super-duo Jerry and Mary both have Asperger’s Syndrome. They have co-written several successful books, including “Autism-Asperger’s & Sexuality” and “Mozart and The Whale – An Asberger’s Love Story”, which was adapted into a film with Josh Hartnett and Radha Mitchell. Jerry is a mathematical Savant, which is an obsession that sometimes consumes him, and Mary’s genius lies in art and pianos.
6. Matt Savage
Perhaps the youngest of the bunch, American Matt is a musicological Savant. Precocious and hyperactive, Matt struggled with comprehension and relating to people, which lead to a diagnosis of autism aged three. Now, aged 16, his exceptional jazz piano talents have seen him travel the world and team up with “neurotypical” greats such as Al Stewart and Chaka Khan. He is an esteemed composer with a love of witty, technical-style performances.
5. James Henry Pullen
Poor James, aka the Genius of Earlswood Asylum, was born in an unfortunate era for Savants. After being born in Dalston, London in 1835, he was quickly dismissed as deaf, mute and developmentally disabled. James was confined to institutions his whole life, where he experienced crippling mood swings ranging from depression to blind rage. It wasn’t until a handicraft session at Earlswood Asylum that his true talents were revealed. He would spend night and day designing cabinets, figurines and other woodwork items then carving them out by any means possible. Some of his masterpieces are displayed around England to this day.
4. Alonzo Clemons
Rather than being born neurologically different, Alonzo, from Boulder, Colorado, suffered a traumatic head injury as a child. The incident rendered him developmentally disabled, with a low IQ of 40-50. However, from memory, Alonzo sculpts anatomically perfect figurines of animals from clay. He was in an institution for most of his life, where they banned him from sculpting, presuming this was holding him back from alternative learning. Alonzo soon found ways around this – by scraping off sealant putty from around the windows. His figurines have sold for up to $45,000.
3. Stephen Wiltshire
London born Stephen has been the subject of many tests and observations. Diagnosed as mute and autistic, those around him were astounded when by the age of five, he was drawing complex landscapes by memory. Stephen has been sent up in helicopters all around the world by those who want to realize the full extent of his architectural Savantism. He has consistently replicated highly complex scenes, such as old Rome, central London and the New York skyline. This resulted in a series of books, including “Drawings” (1987), “Cities” (1989), “Floating Cities” (1991), which made the Sunday Times Bestsellers list, “Stephen Wiltshire’s American Dream” (1993), and the “Stephen Wiltshire Catalogue 2008”. Stephen can now verbally communicate at a basic level.
2. Daniel Tammet
Daniel Tammet, a highly functioning autistic, credits severe childhood epilepsy to his Savantism. London born Daniel experiences synaesthesia, which is vivid imagery of letters and numbers, and is a master of numbers and languages. He speaks 11 languages, learned fluent Icelandic in seven days for a TV show, and is currently creating his own lingo – “Mänti”. Thirty-one year old Tammet is openly gay and runs an online e-learning company with his partner, from their home in Kent.
1. Kim Peek
“Put him in an institution and forget about him” was what the doctor told Kim Peek’s father. Yet, the refusal to do this enabled the world to see the amazing feats of an individual who would have been otherwise condemned. Born with part of his brain missing, Kim has physical and social disabilities, but is uniquely a non-autistic Savant, with incredible memory skills. He read and memorized books from the age of 16 months and remembers 98.7 percent of what he reads today – be it history, sport, geography, music, or even the phone book. Kim is renowned as the inspiration for the epic film, “Rain Man”. Kim is now 56 and has made considerable improvements in his social skills.
Written by Katherine Watt