Annotation: the savant syndrome

J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2004 Jul;45(5):899-911. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.2004.t01-1-00284.x.


Background: Whilst interest has focused on the origin and nature of the savant syndrome for over a century, it is only within the past two decades that empirical group studies have been carried out.

Methods: The following annotation briefly reviews relevant research and also attempts to address outstanding issues in this research area. Traditionally, savants have been defined as intellectually impaired individuals who nevertheless display exceptional skills within specific domains. However, within the extant literature, cases of savants with developmental and other clinical disorders, but with average intellectual functioning, are increasingly reported.

Results: We thus propose that focus should diverge away from IQ scores to encompass discrepancies between functional impairments and unexpected skills. It has long been observed that savant skills are more prevalent in individuals with autism than in those with other disorders. Therefore, in this annotation we seek to explore the parameters of the savant syndrome by considering these skills within the context of neuropsychological accounts of autism. A striking finding amongst those with savant skills, but without the diagnosis of autism, is the presence of cognitive features and behavioural traits associated with the disorder.

Conclusions: We thus conclude that autism (or autistic traits) and savant skills are inextricably linked and we should therefore look to autism in our quest to solve the puzzle of the savant syndrome.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Affect
  • Aptitude*
  • Autistic Disorder / physiopathology
  • Autistic Disorder / psychology*
  • Child
  • Cognition
  • Humans
  • Intelligence*
  • Learning
  • Mathematics
  • Memory
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Syndrome