On the heels of my post about talented American autistic Temple Grandin, a peek into the world of savants and synesthetes.
A savant (these days we leave off the politically incorrect modifier "idiot") is an intellectually disabled person who exhibits extraordinary ability in a highly specialized area, such as mathematics or music. Prodigious savants are often known for their instantaneous calculations - as depicted in "Rain Man," based on Kim Peek (1958-2009) - and their photographic memories.
A synesthete is a person who has a subjective sensation or image of a sense other than the one being stimulated. Over 60 types of synesthesia have been reported, with some of the most common variations listed below:
- letters or numbers are perceived as colors
- numbers or calendar items (days, months) elicit precise locations in space
- words (or parts of words) evoke tastes in the mouth
There are on-line communities for individuals with savant syndrome and synesthesia. Neatorama lists 10 fascinating savants and New Scientist discusses synesthetes who see time. Over the summer, Radio New Zealand interviewed a woman for whom numbers have distinct personalities. And early this year, the New York Times focused on a man who can track every nut and bolt in the family hardware store - without the use of a computer. Blessed with his unique abilities and the wherewithal to describe the way he experiences things, high-functioning British autistic Daniel Tammet (b. 1979) is both a savant and a synesthete.