IN THEIR GREAT DISABILITY, LIES A GREAT ABILITY PART II

Do you know things you have never learned? The only way to know things one never learned is- somethings at a complex level- for that knowledge to be factory installed or genetically transmitted –Dr. Treffert.


A Quick Background on Autism and Savant Syndrome.


Certain theories have been postulated to ascertain how savant syndrome works in people with Autism. Popular among such are the Weak Central Coherence theory and Mind Blindedness. The Weak Central Coherence theory has its root from the compound word- Central Coherence which is the ability to comprehend and digest information with the aim of searching for the big picture but at the expense of details. The prefix “weak” is anti to the original meaning of Central Coherence. In Weak Central Coherence, the concerned individual tends to be overly obsessed with details rather than the overall content of a piece. This, in part, explains why some savants are obsessed with specific math skills but lack an overall mental ability that is seen in Neurotypical Persons (NTPs) -individuals who do not have a diagnosis of autism or any other intellectual or developmental different or an individual who thinks, perceives, and behaves in ways that are considered to be “normal” by the general population.


However, “this drive for coherence, though weaker in people with Autism Spectrum Disorder, would make savants better than NTPs at some tasks” said the person who coined the term “Central coherence”.


A person, with a strong Central Coherence, looking at an endless expanse of trees would see a whole list of individuals tress but a person, with a strong Central Coherence, would see “The Forest”. When you ask an autistic savant, who is a friend of numbers to give answers to maths problems, he would be apt to do so but proceed to general skills, you would be amazed by the results.


Furthermore, another such neuropsychological theory is Mind Blindedness. It is a condition where Autistic Patients have a loose ability to develop a mental awareness of what is in other peoples’ minds. Mind you, the inability to get answer is not the focus , it is the fact that there is little information to determine which of the many possible answers is correct. It occurs in the absence of the Theory of the Mind (ToM). The ToM is the exact opposite of Mind Blindedness. Let me not bore you with details but consider this. Mind blindness arises when there is a delay in the development of certain features necessary to activate the ToM. The effect is the misrepresentation of other people’s actions and lack of the mental awareness of other people’s minds and in fact, they can not put themselves in other people’s shoes.


What’s My Point?


If several NTPs, who have developed the theory of mind and could tell why certain autistic people act in deviation from the conventional behaviors, (in this case, because they lack the theory of mind), still go ahead to present these people as underrepresented, then we need to reconsider why we are humans. I need not write an epistle on why these people have to live under special care. But imagine how it feels when you are played down for doing something that, according to your discretion, is right.

The people that lack the ToM perceive the world as frightening, confusing, and weird yet, neurotypical persons, whose ToM is unaffected make them feel more isolated that they feel withdrawing from the society is the thing to do.


P.S These two theories discussed above are prominent among autistic people and the subject of this writing extends beyond mere autism.


Here is a data to make things clear.

Dr. Treffert said “ 1 out of 10 autistic patients show savants skills, 1 out of 1400 people with some form of neurological disorder show savants skills. Yet, 50% of savants are not autistic. In the case of the last data, let’s consider the second data where just 1 out of 1400 mentally disordered individuals show savants traits. So let’s say out of 140,000 people with some form of disorders, 100 people, who are savants, emerge. Just half of these savants would be autistic while the rest would be of other disorders. This is to suggest the prominence of savant skills among Autism Spectrum Disorder patients.


How do savants do it?

While some scientists have presented evidence of genetics in the development of savants skills, it is still yet to be ascertained. In my own view, if this is true, it would only be for the congenital savants and not the acquired savants. If it extends to acquired savant’s skills, then we might need to revisit the Lamarckism theory.

A man by the names Treffert who studied savants for about 50 years brought forth an argument worth considering. He termed it the three Rs. According to him, “In both the congenital and acquired savant there is brain damage in one area, frequently the left hemisphere, with Recruitment of still intact brain tissue in another area of the brain, Rewiring of circuitry to that new area, and Release of dormant capacity already stored in that newly recruited area.” From a point of view a curious being, the new area is often the right/ brain and the process is the release of extraordinary traits by the right brain at the expense of damage to the left brain. Currently, this is the most succinct and easy to understand way the traits evolve. The left part of the brain, which we rely on most of the time, is often associated with language, logical and sequential thinking while the right part of the brain which we use less often is associated wit h tasks concerning arts and creativity- which we most times ignore. It is the release of the dormant capacities in the right brain, coupled with the procedural memory, that gives rise to the savants skills.

Can The Traits be treaded off or disappear?


While such has been very rare, the record still holds for what has now termed the Nadia effect. A popular case was that of Nadia, a prolific childhood artist, whose special artistic traits disappeared when she was sent to school to increase language acquisition, communication, and other skills.

In Dr. Selfe’s book titled Nadia Revisited “In the years following my first study, and throughout her school days, Nadia was given intensive help with language development and her ability to communicate improved with the production of two/three-word sentences. She also started to draw like an infant so that, for a period, two styles coexisted and sometimes on the same piece of paper. Gradually and inexorably she lost the ability to draw realistically. Unlike some savant artists such as Stephen Wiltshire, who has gone from strength to strength with his drawing, Nadia’s ability appeared to peter out. She is now middle-aged and lives in a specialist care home but for many years she has simply refused to draw.” However, it should not be ascertained that going to school would lead to the trade-off of savant skills.

Dr. Treffert noted that scientists are yet to figure “exactly” why the traits disappeared in her but further reinforced that “training the talent or whatever that special skill is, leads, in and of itself, to increased language, social and daily living skills without any “dreaded trade-off” of special skills.

Hence, parents and teachers can continue not only to applaud and reinforce the special skills as they surface but can confidently add teaching and training in a more formal sense as well without fear of loss of talent, ingenuity or enthusiasm on the part of the savant”

Can the traits be acquired without undergoing any form of developmental disorder, damage to the brain or CNS catastrophe?


Of course! But it comes with conditions but not necessarily the damage to any part of the CNS or the brain though. You may not take my words for it but consider the words of a man who has spent more than half of his life studying these savants. He said “I liken the phenomenon of experiencing a new capacity or capability by deliberately changing mind-set and mind-circuitry to the popular stereograms in which one first sees only a series of dots. But then, by “changing set” in terms of focus and eye dominance apparently, in the case of stereograms, all of a sudden — aha! — there it is, the three dimensional dinosaur or grizzly bear the caption said was present, but remained unrevealed until “something happened” internally to allow the hidden image to emerge. The dots on the paper did not change, but one’s perception and interpretation of that series of dots was altered dramatically with an affirmative and deliberate effort to experience that transition. In like manner, but by an entirely different mechanism, it appears in some instances in each of us it is possible to tap different areas of CNS functioning than typically or customarily used with a freeing up of, and possibility of tapping into, dormant abilities and habit memory capabilities.”

In essence, changing one’s mindset and perception and adjusting ones mind to a circuitry (could this be the second phase in those with acquired savants after going through CNS catastrophe? Doesn’t it makes sense? ) in which one first sees the conventional picture but a shift in the mindset causes one to see beyond the initial and general view, explains how savants-equivalent traits could emerge in everyone.

While this piece might appear as a scientific research, it was written to correct certain misconceptions held against people who are considered disabled. Like I said earlier, in their disability, lies a great ability.




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