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What is an Idiot Savant?

Author J. Davis. Published on May 21, 2011 - 3:27 am (4329 views — 261 words)

Idiot savant is a term for a person who has significant mental impairment, such as in autism or retardation. At the same time, the person also exhibits some extraordinary skills, which are unusual for most people. The skills of the savant are exceptionally gifted in music or in mathematics, or having a photographic memory.

The movie Rain Man is famous for depicting an Idiot Savant. Dustin Hoffman plays a character with an extreme form of Autism but also has a photographic memory and a profound ability with numbers. Tom Cruises character plays his brother Charlie Babbitt and takes him to Las Vegas and strikes it rich by getting him to count cards at the blackjack table.

Not every person who is autistic has idiot savant abilities. Some appear to be more intelligent than others, but few autistic people are mentally retarded. In fact it is theorized that it is because of the autistic persons dependence upon the brains right-sided function may be the reason for their facility for certain things, like mathematics, memorization and creative ability greater in the idiot savant.

The term idiot dates back to the concept of the village idiot who might be tolerated because he or she exhibited certain uncommon skills. In other cases, the exhibition of savant skills, particularly in the Middle Ages was apt to be considered witchcraft. Unfortunately, a savant cannot necessarily control demonstration of such skills, and some village idiots were chased out of their villages or killed.

Most people now prefer the term savant, or autistic savant to the insulting idiot savant.