25 Individuals Who Thrived with Savant Syndrome
Savant syndrome is a fascinating, remarkable and baffling condition. Very
little is understood about it, other than that it’s a phenomenon that involves
an individual demonstrating a remarkable talent in a single area. This is
despite significantly lacking in social skills or other aspects of life. Savant
syndrome is very rare, though there have been a number of individuals during the
years that have had the condition and conquered the severe handicaps that
typically come with it.
25) Rudiger Gamm
German, Rudiger Gamm, is a mathematical genius, who can perform complex
calculations entirely in his head. This is without ever needing to write a
single thing down. He also has the ability to speak backwards. There is some
debate as to whether Gamm can be truly classified as a savant, as he
intellectually understands his ability, whereas savants can demonstrate
remarkable talents without explaining how and why they do things.
Whether Gamm is a true savant might be unclear, but what is indisputable is
that he had never been particularly adept at mathematics growing up. It was only
after the age of 21 that he discovered that he somehow had a phenomenal gift
when it came to numbers.
24) Richard Wawro (1952-2006)
Richard Wawro is a Scottish savant who created meticulously detailed images
of seascapes and landscapes using only crayon.
The images that he would recall
were purely from memory, after having seen them either in person, in magazines
or just on television.
His work was praised for his close attention to detail, coloring and depth.
Due to his remarkable memory, he could only recreate images in detail, but he
could also date them precisely as to when he first saw them, even if it was only
for a brief period.
23) Matt Savage
Matt Savage has never taken any official music studies. Nevertheless, he is a
savant with a remarkable gift for playing the piano, which he first displayed
when he was just six year old.
Now a young adult, he has carved out a prestigious career. He has both toured
the world and also performed for a number of important political figures with
his band, The Matt Savage trio. He has been honored with a number of
high-standing. His ability as a child was so remarkable that he was offered a
partnership with the piano manufacturer, Bosendorfer, as a spokesperson.
22) Henriett Seth F.
Hungarian, Henriett Seth F., is unique for a number of reasons. Given that
savant syndrome generally affects males (only around 16% females), her condition
is unusual. Perhaps what is most impressive is just how successful she has been,
both personally and commercial, despite her condition.
Henriett Seth F. (Left) With Her Daughter:
via Wikimedia Commons
She is an acclaimed poet, artist and writer. She has penned a number of
successful books. Her life and achievements were detailed in the documentary
‘Freedom of Speech’ (2005).
21) Gottfried Mind (1768-1814)
Gottfried Mind was Swiss savant who had the remarkable ability to draw.
Specifically, he spent years portraying images of his favorite animal, which was
the cat. Throughout his lifetime, Mind produced numerous illustrations of
"A Cat in a Cage"
Reportedly, his obsession with cats began after he viewed an image of a
cottage in which a woman was feeding her cats. When Mind saw the depiction of
the animal, he declared that it was “no cat!” Mind thought he could do better
and thus proved his claim to be true by his representations of the animal in his
work. Ultimately, Mind ended up producing such a large quantity of cat images that
he earned himself the nickname, the “Raphael of Cats.”
20) Derek Paravicini
Derek Paravicini is a self-taught musical savant, and said to be a genius on
the piano. He can play the song ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ in pretty much each and
every music style. Astoundingly, despite his skills on the instrument, he
struggles to coordinate his fingers in regards to day to day life.
He is barely
capable of buttoning his own shirt, thus highlighting the perplexing nature of
savant syndrome and the gifts it bestows under the most unusual circumstances.
19) James Charles Castle (1899-1977)
Another self-taught artistic savant, James Charles Castle, was known to
utilize numerous esoteric items that he simply happened to stumble upon to
produce his artwork. Furthermore, he was known to not bother with pencils or
ink. He would instead utilize sharpened sticks in place of drawing utensils and
a combination of soil and saliva in place of ink.
Castle was born and lived in Garden Valley, Idaho. He never ventured outside
of his comfort zone, thus he was largely, if not entirely, unaware of the art
world beyond his home town. Nevertheless, his work was of world-class quality.
When his work was discovered in the late 2000s, it took the global art community
by storm. Major institutions and private collectors began competing for his art.
18) Temple Grandin
Temple Grandin is one of the usual savants. Despite her condition, she is
highly functional, so much so, that she is a doctor of animal science.
Furthermore, she is a professor at Colorado State University.
By Steve Jurvetson
via Wikimedia Commons
She has remarkable eye for detail, which she has utilized to assist in the
development of animal handling equipment. She is also heavily involved in the
livestock field of work. In 2010, Grandin was listed as one of Time Magazine’s
100 Most Influential People.
17) Thristan Mendoza
Thristan Mendoza, otherwise known as the “marimba prodigy,” was born in the
Philippines. Since the age of two, he had displayed a great talent in regards to
music, specifically in the area of percussion. His talents soon caught attention
of the instrumental scene, and he has become a living legend in worldwide
16) Jonathan Lerman
Jonathan Lerman has savant syndrome, but he also suffers from autisim.
Despite having autism, he has an IQ of over 150. He was diagnosed with autism
when he was two-years-old. Although Lerman had these conditions, he displayed
remarkable drawing ability in his youth, producing charcoal illustrations at the
age of ten.
By the time Lerman was 14-years-old, a number of his pieces had already sold
for more than $1,000. Today, he is still a professional artist who continues to
produce a variety of creations through which he articulates himself; thus
overcoming the many communication barriers of his condition.
15) James Henry Pullen (1835-1916)
James Henry Pullen, otherwise known as the “Genius of Earlswood Asylum,”
lived in England during the late 1800s. At the age of 15, he was committed to an
asylum. Little was known about autism in those days, and many with the condition
were considered “not normal.” Pullen was born with a number of disablements. He
was considered mute and deaf until he reached the age of seven - when he
suddenly pronounced the single word “mother.”
Although Pullen never possessed the ability to read or write, he displayed a
great ability when it came to carvings. He was especially adept at carving
ships. One particularly impressive piece of Pullen’s work was a depiction of the
British vessel, The SS Great Eastern. The model was meticulously hand-carved so
wonderfully that it included representations of all the ship’s actual rivets
(5,585 of them), as well as the ship’s pristine furniture. Given the
misconceptions about his condition, Pullen lived 60 years in the Earlswood
14) Leslie Lemke
Leslie Lemke was born with brain damage and glaucoma that left him blind. He
was fifteen years old before he learned how to walk. Although it seemed like
Lemke would struggle throughout his life, he was discovered to have a remarkable
talent for playing the piano. This discovery came about when he was 16.
After hearing Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 on television, Lemke’s
adoptive mother found that he could play the piece perfectly. His talents aren’t
just limited to classical music. He is a prodigy and he can play various styles
after hearing it performed just once. Furthermore, he composes his own original
pieces of music.
13) Gilles Trehin
(Geography, Artistic Ability)
Gilles Trehin is an autistic savant who has produced hundreds of drawings and
maps of a fictional French city he named “Urville.” He has dedicated his time to
detailing the dimensions of “Urville,” with a variety of drawings and maps of
the city that exists only in his mind. The population of the city is 12 million.
The city is the capital of a big island province. A number of books have been
published about the city.
12) Daniel Tammet
Daniel Tammet is a distinct savant in that he has both a phenomenal ability
to learn languages and he has strong social skills – each of which is unusual in
savant syndrome. He can speak 11 different languages, plus one that he created
himself. He also has a remarkable talent in working with numbers.
via Wikimedia Commons
Tammet has described his abilities as “involving mental calculations and
numbers in terms of a landscape of colors and shapes.” One strange downside to
his abilities includes possessing an incredible ability to remember numerous
aspects of an individual’s facial features. But he lacks the ability to
recognize the face of a person he’s previously met.
11) Ellen Boudreaux
(Memory, Echolocation Ability)
Ellen Boudreaux is a savant with a number of remarkable gifts and talents.
First of all, she has a seemingly endless catalogue of songs that she knows by
heart - music and lyrics.
At eight-years-old, Boudreaux’s mother had her listen to the clock time and
date via telephone to help her get over her fears of using a telephone. From
that day on, she had had the ability to determine time, despite never viewing a
clock - ever.
Perhaps most remarkable of all was Boudreaux’s ability to combat blindness.
She can avoid colliding with things through the self-taught technique of
echolocation. This is where she makes chirping noises and thereby determines
where things are by how the sound bounces back at her.
10) George Widener
(Numerology, Artistic Ability)
George Widener spent his early years in rural Appalachia. With little
understood about autism, Widener lived in a variety of shelters before his
condition was officially diagnosed.
After receiving the appropriate treatment, it was discovered that Widener had
a great talent for both numbers and art. When he began combining the two, he
produced numerous, intricate works of art.
9) Tony DeBlois
After a premature birth in 1974, it appeared that Tony DeBlois would struggle
with both blindness and severe autism that was caused by his treatment
immediately following his birth. However, when he was two-years-old he began
playing the piano, displaying a natural talent for the instrument.
From thereon, DeBlois’ musical talents have grown rapidly. He’s since
developed the ability to play over 20 different instruments in various styles.
He has also managed to memorize more than 8,000 pieces of music, which he pieced
together completely from ear.
8) Stephen Wiltshire
(Memory, Artistic Ability)
West Indian Londoner, Stephen Wiltshire, is a savant known for his remarkable
talent for illustrating (in meticulous detail) expansive landscapes, even after
viewing them for a brief period of time.
Some regard Wiltshire as the “human camera.” He gained worldwide attention in
2005 when he illustrated a precise, 10-foot-tall, panoramic of Tokyo He had only
seen the view while on a brief helicopter flight over the city.
7) Jedediah Buxton (1707-1772)
Jedediah Buxton was born in Derbyshire, England. Although he never received
formal education in his youth, he displayed that he possessed a remarkable
ability to work with numbers.
Buxton was reportedly was able to measure the entire Lordship of Elmton just
by wandering over the grounds in question. He also detailed the measurement in
acres and counted the space in square inches.
He was such an expert in numeric counting that he was ahead of his time. He
ultimately had to create names for some numbers, as no one else had ever had use
for such large quantities of things.
6 – 5) George and Charles Finn
Savant syndrome is rare. What’s even rarer is when twins share the condition.
This is the case for George and Charles Finn. They both possess the ability to
count the calendar, which means that either of them can remember any date in
history and tell you what day of the week it was. In this photograph his father
had just asked him what day of the week December 7, 1941 was and just to be
clear it was a Sunday. They are referred to as the "Calendar Calculator Twins".
4 – 3) Flo and
Kay Lyman (Memory Ability)
Katherine and Florence Lyman are savant twins that also possessed the same
calendar counting ability as the Finn twins. What makes the Lyman twins even
more remarkable is that they are female twins, given that female savants are so
rare. Often these tremendously tactful twins are called the "Rain Man Twins".
Like the Finn’s, the Lyman twins can recall events of any day they’re asked.
This is in regards to weather, what they ate and where they were. They also
possess an encyclopedic memory for pop music of the 1960s and 1970s.
On a personal note, the twins have a long held obsession with Dick Clark, and
can list in meticulous detail, everything he ever wore on the television series
2) Tom Wiggins (1849-1908)
Tom Wiggins was born a slave in the 19th century. While he was initially
destined for a life of hard labor, his owner soon discovered that he had an
astounding talent for music. Despite the fact that he was blind, by the age of
13, Wiggins was able to perform the feat of playing two different songs at once
on different hands!
The owner of Wiggins saw his money-making potential and began touring the
autistic musician and he was soon a nationally recognized. Wiggins made a
fortune and he was known by the nickname “Blind Tom.”
Over the years, Wiggins’ talent increased. He developed the ability to copy
almost every sound he heard. He was also said to be able to precisely make the
sound of any animal. Furthermore, Wiggins had the talent to play the piano
beautifully with his back to the instrument. He would play two separate pianos,
while singing a third song at the same time!
1) Kim Peek (1951-2009)
(Memory, Numerology Ability)
Kim Peek is perhaps the biggest reason the average person has some
understanding of savant syndrome. Peek was the primary inspiration for the
character Dustin Hoffman portrayed in the film ‘Rain Man’ (1984).
As remarkable as his performance was, Hoffman’s depiction of Peek was
somewhat altered for artistic effect. In the film, Peek is depicted as having
autism, whereas in real life, he most likely had FG Syndrome. This is a very
uncommon genetic disorder leading to physical anomalies.
via Wikimedia Commons
Whatever Peek truly suffered from, he was well known because of his
remarkable memory. He possessed an ability to remember calendar dates and codes.
The main cause of his condition is assumed to have involved damage to the corpus
callosum (the absence of connective nerves to the hemispheres of his brain).
Experts have suggested that it was because of this damage that Peek’s brain
compensated by creating an astounding memory.
via Wikimedia Commons
After the release of ‘Rain Man,’ Peek’s life changed quite dramatically.
Beyond raising awareness of his condition, he managed to improve his social
skills after becoming a spokesperson for savant syndrome.
Despite the numerous cases over the years, savant syndrome is still
surrounded by questions, many of which are unlikely to ever be thoroughly
explained. It is the contradictory nature of the condition that generally gives
and takes so much all at once. One thing that is clear with all the cases that
have made history is that savant syndrome is a significant condition for a
number of reasons. It will always be regarded with ambivalence from those who
have the condition and ones who see it from the outside. Perhaps the one
certainty with savant syndrome is that those with it will continue to achieve
great goals and inspire each one of us with their incredible determination,
talents and accomplishments.
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