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No. 6: February 1979

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Some Highly Focussed Minds

Here is a modern study of calculating prodigies, idiot savants, or, as Rimland prefers, "autistic savants." Calculating prodigies are rarely idiots; that is, with IQs below 30: rather they are almost always autistic, displaying gross disturbances in communication, and/or motor behavior.

Rimland and his colleagues have studied 5,400 autistic children and found 10% of them to have extraordinary abilities. We hear most often about those prodigies who can multiply large numbers in their heads instantaneously or give us calendar information far in the past or future without the blink of an eye. But autistic savants are also prodigal in the fields of art, music, and mechanics. No one knows how they per-form their feats, although psychologists speculate that their minds are intensely focussed on their special skills to the exclusion of most everything else. A few "normal" people, such as Gauss and Ampere, have matched the capabilities of the autistic savants, but the rest of us have our minds spread too thinly. We are in the majority, so the autistic savants usually end up in institutions while we plod along outside.

(Rimland, Bernard; "Inside the Mind of the Autistic Savant," Psychology Today, August 1978.)

Comment. We may speculate that the capabilities of the autistic savants are inherent in all of us, awaiting only some key.

From Science Frontiers #6, February 1979. 1979-2000 William R. Corliss