Autistic Savant: Do All People With Autism Have Extraordinary Capabilities?

What is a savant? Is everyone with autism also a savant? Are savants more talented than everyone else? Find out the answers in this guide.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
September 20, 2023
min read

What is savant syndrome?

Savant syndrome is a rare condition where people with various mental and neurological disorders can experience a high level of intelligence that's characterized by a spontaneous contrast to their disorder. People with autism could experience savantism.

As of now, one out of every 10 people that have autism will grow to have abilities that are remarkable in various areas of expertise. Savantism isn't exclusive to autism and can occur in people with other disorders also. Whichever skill is shown, it's typically connected to someone harboring the ability to remember things easily.

In short, savant syndrome is when someone shows a higher degree of intellect in a field or several fields.

This isn't a diagnosis but more on the lines of a condition, or description of an event that hasn't been thoroughly studied.

A person with savant syndrome can have a low IQ or exhibit different mental challenges or delays. At the same time, they'll have an incredible level of intelligence in a single ability, or sometimes more.

There are no criteria for savantism and it isn't listed in any edition of the DSM.Still, savantism, when exhibited can be displayed by an exceptional talent in the following areas:

  • Music - Has refined music tastes that go far beyond the range of others.
  • Music creation - Can play an instrument, or several, at an ability that exceeds even others with no mental and neurological disorders.
  • Calculating Calendars - Understand dates very well, including holidays, DOBs, and special events that aren't commonly listed on a standard calendar. May also be aware of other calendars, such as those used in foreign countries and holidays celebrated there.
  • Mathematics - Can display proficiency in even advanced levels of math, such as Calculus, Trigonometry, and Geometry.
  • Spatial and mechanical skills - May have an understanding of moving parts such as engines, automobiles, lawn equipment, and other sophisticated tech.

What is an autistic savant?

An autistic savant is a person with autism spectrum disorder having an advanced level of knowledge in an ability or a subject. There are many variations as to the number of people with autism that have autistic savant. However, it might be more common for those that are high functioning.

Still, even moderate to severe cases of autism have been documented as having savantism, though in rare occurrences.

In one study, there were as many as ten people with ASD that had high levels in different fields.

In other studies, the results hint at a little over a third of people with ASD meeting the criteria for the definition of savantism.Autistic savantism isn't identical to someone with autism having some random talent.

People with the disorder are like anyone else and capable of doing anything that all others can achieve. However, savantism isn't quite uncommon. It's not someone with the disorder that can calculate equations well, play instruments well, and carry themselves in a normal fashion that's similar to what others can learn.

Studies indicate that people with autistic savantism can have behavioral and cognitive characteristics that make them different from others with the disorder that has talents. Their profiles typically show the following:

  • A higher level of sensory sensitivities than others with autism
  • Behaviors that are deemed as obsessive
  • A strong desire to create systems, or systemize various objects, issues, and problems
  • Abilities that are highly technical and require much attention to detail

Is everyone with autism also a savant?

No, not every person that's on the spectrum harbors abilities that are associated with autistic savantism, at least in an identifiable way.Some researchers believe that everyone in the world can potentially be a savant in their way. This belief is based on the idea that skills shown can spring forth spontaneously.

Skills could be created or learned through repetition and stimulation of the senses.

Although this might not be carefully studied, savant skills could be initiated through the inhibition of certain portions of the brain. In one study, an educated guess concerning savantism was evaluated.

The conductors wished to find out the accessibility of skills related to savant syndrome and the brain, or neurotypical mind. This could be done by causing interruptions in the functioning of specific portions of the brain through repeat stimulation.

Other research shows that autistic savant skills can be associated with the right portion of the brain, as abnormalities are associated with the opposite hemisphere. Skills in the arts in some patients that lose other cognitive abilities like speaking and socializing were recognized.

Savant syndrome that's acquired can be the result of trauma that occurs in the left hemisphere of the brain. Still, this is a rare occurrence and injuries seldom result in high-level skills being shown.

One crucial theory related to savant syndrome involves a researcher studying damage compensation theory.

It was suggested that damage taken to the left side of the brain can produce a release in unlocked abilities from the opposite side, which could allow the left to carry out actions that were initially tasked for the right, concluding in a sudden high level of talent. Such results are intriguing to the people that study the phenomenon of savantism and may shed future light on more neurotypical people that display marked talent in unexpected fields.

Are savants more talented than everyone else?

It's typical for many parents with a child diagnosed with autism to hear compliments about their luck. People may believe that those with ASD have high levels of intelligence and technical abilities. However, in most cases, there are only rare cases of people with the disorder being classified as savants.

It might be difficult for some to take savantism as a potentially negative condition. Their skills can be very impressive and go far beyond what others are capable of.

But the reality is that savantism doesn't make the lives of people with such characteristics any better. It could even make things more difficult, especially regarding their attempt to improve in social abilities.

Some savants have abilities that are capable of being expanded on or channeled to go on certain paths.

An artist that's on the spectrum, for instance, could sell their creations with their extraordinary talent.However, the reality is that skills some might show that are relative to savantism might produce anything that they could use for prosperity. The ability to remember pages from books verbatim, while impressive, might not help in a way that's meaningful to their condition or well-being.

Should savant syndrome be nourished?

Savant syndrome can be nourished, but carefully. If someone with autism shows good skills in something, it should be encouraged when it counts as a benefit to their life and improves on things they might lack in.


steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

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