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April 2007

The Autistic Artist, “Special Faculties,” and Savant Syndrome

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2007;161(4):323. doi:10.1001/archpedi.161.4.323

When J. Langdon H. Down, MD, gave a lecture to the Medical Society of London, London, England, in 1887, he described in keen detail what has come to be now known as Down syndrome. In that same lecture, Down also described “an interesting class of cases” with “special faculties which are capable of being cultivated to a very great extent.”1 We now call that circumstance savant syndrome—a rare but remarkable condition in which spectacular “islands of genius” are seen in stark contrast to overall handicap from developmental disorders, including autism, or other central nervous system disorders or diseases.