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What is Acquired Savant Syndrome?

Darold A. Treffert, MD has studied autism and savant syndrome for over 50 years, serving as a consultant for the Academy-award winning movie “Rain Man” and appearing on CNN, the Today Show, Dateline, 60 Minutes, Oprah, The Discovery Channel and more.  The following explanation is taken from his writings.

“In recent years there have been a number of cases reported in which, after some brain injury or brain disease, savant skills unexpectedly emerge, sometimes at a prodigious level, when no such skills were present before injury or illness. This is called Acquired Savant Syndrome. In many of these cases, the special abilities emerge following left hemisphere injury, particularly left anterior temporal lobe injury. Increasingly, there is speculation that these newly emerged skills, formerly dormant, are “released,” compensatory abilities rather than newly created ones."

One form of savant syndrome is congenital, often accompanied by autism, and discovered in early childhood. ​ A second form of savantism is known as sudden savant syndrome where a person discovers a new skill without anything having precipitated its arrival.  


A third form of savant syndrome--the one that brought our founders together--is known as Acquired Savant Syndrome. In the acquired savant, the Central Nervous System injury simply occurs at a later period of life than does the congenital savant. While not universal, in both the congenital and acquired savant, such CNS injury or disease most often involves the changes in the left hemisphere with compensatory changes in the right hemisphere.

The fact that savant skills, entirely dormant before CNS injury or disease, can surface by some ‘release’ (disinhibition) process raises intriguing questions about dormant capacity existing within us all. The challenge, of course, if that is so, is how to access that hidden knowledge and skill without some sort of CNS catastrophe. And work to examine the dormant potential that might exist within us all is now underway. 

Additional Sources of Information:​

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