Some children/adults with autism can have what’s called an ‘island savant.’
Every year during March Madness I am reminded of this.
Being a savant is quite rare, except among individuals with autism. ‘ Today one in ten people with autism have savantism.’ (http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/beautiful-minds/2014/02/25/where-do-savant-skills-come-from/). These individuals have what could be referred to as an ‘island of genius.’
Remember the movie Rain Man? The movie was based on a true story about a man name Kim Peek, while Mr. Peek did not have autism (although Rain Man’s lead character Raymond Babbit was portrayed to have autism) he did have a remarkable memory and FG Syndrome.
‘He could speed through a book in about an hour and remember almost everything he had read, memorizing vast amounts of information in subjects ranging from history and literature, geography and numbers to sports, music and dates. Peek read by scanning the left page with his left eye, then the right page with his right eye.’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kim_Peek)
Tucker certainly cannot do this, but he does have this insane memory for March Madness. At age four he could recreate the 64 team bracket – without help – naming all the teams and winners from the original 64 to the championship. The first time I saw him do this – I thought…someday that child is going to be a BIG winner in Vegas!
Juuuust kidding…well, maybe. 😉
Now that we have reached the Sweet Sixteen I was anxious to see if he still had this ability. I literally JUST asked him. He LITERALLY just recalled all the teams with 100% certainty beginning with the original 64.
He watches some of the games – but he doesn’t watch all of the games. Honestly, I’m not sure how he is able to recall that much information. While I am certainly not saying he is a savant, he does have a similar memory when it comes to his favorite sports/activities.
It’s the type of memory he has, it’s deep and narrow and incredibly focused on a particular ability/topic. According to savant research, these abilities are clustered into five major categories: music, art, lighting calculation, calendar calculation, and visual-spacial ability.
The visual-spacial learning style is evident if you prefer using images, pictures, colors, and maps to organize information. There is no doubt in my mind that Tucker’s strengths lie in that visual-spacial ability/learning style. Tucker used to be OBSESSED with maps. If he was irritable in the car – simply hand him a Rand McNally Atlas and he would be good for hours.
Visual-spacial learners can easily visualize objects, plans, and outcomes. He’s also a diagram guy and remember all the writing about social stories? Again, this makes sense. The information is organized, sequential, and explicit – there is nothing left to try to imagine. He’s able to read and see what he is supposed to do in any given situation.
Being able to quickly memorize this bracket is most certainly a visual-spacial ability. This is the reason that when he was four he asked me to “draw brackets.” I wasn’t sure what he wanted, but I did it anyway. As I realized what he was doing…I kept drawing, and he kept filling in the blanks.
Dr. Darold Treffert a Wisconsin psychiatrist has been studying savant’s for more than 40 years. He coined the three r’s of what happens in the brain of a savant: recruitment, rewiring, and release. Essentially, the parts of the brain that are undamaged recruit other parts of the brain to compensate for the damaged pieces. Then rewiring happens and the newly wired connections are is released.
In honor of our visual-spacial folks – check out this picture from http://sfari.org/news-and-opinion/conference-news/2012/society-for-neuroscience-2012/researchers-reveal-first-brain-study-of-temple-grandin.
This is Temple Grandin, a quite famous person in the world of autism. She is known as a savant with extremely sharp visual acuity. In fact, she wrote in her book Thinking in Pictures: “When somebody speaks to me, his words are instantly translated into pictures.”
A neurotypical (See Day #35 – I’m a Neurotypical) brain is on top, her brain scan is on bottom. It’s quite easy to see how he brain recruited, rewired, and released.
Once this process is complete individuals will struggle with creativity and cognitive flexibility. Cognitive flexibility is ability to switch your thinking between two concepts or to think about multiple concepts at one time. (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/feeling-too-much/201408/islands-genius-how-savants-do-what-they-do)
Makes sense, right?
Struggle with creativity? Check.
Struggle with cognitive flexibility? Check.
In the place of these two ideas these thinkers become more automatic, rigid, and rule-based.
Again, having the ability to recall some as automatic, rigid, and rule-based as the March Madness bracket? The ability to recall a ‘map’ of winning teams?
Makes complete sense.
So, no – he’s not a savant. Would I argue he has some of the qualities? You bet. I’m positive these strengths, with encouraged development, will lead him to a quite satisfying career in architecture, engineering, or computer design.
In the meantime? I’ll take advantage of his skills and ask him to help me fill out my bracket next year and maybe someday…Vegas.