In 1979, then ten-year-old Orlando was playing baseball when the ball struck him hard on the left side of his head. He fell to the ground but eventually got up to continue playing.
For a while, Orlando had headaches. When they went away, he realized he had new abilities: he could perform complex calendar calculations and remember the weather every day from the day of the accident.
How could this happen?? How can a perfectly average person end up with AMAZING abilities from just being hit in the head? Although you could say some seriously unusual rewiring went on as the brain tried to heal, the more logical reason is that the abilities were there but not turned on.
Some argue that savant abilities are just a fluke. After all, they happen most often in people who are quite significantly mentally handicapped. Ten percent of people that are austistic have a splinter skill that is unusual and above the average population. Some people like Kim Peek that the movie Rain Man was based on couldn’t dress himself, but had thousands of books memorized. So is the brain just compensating or is there a different reason for the amazing various abilities we see in savants and prodigies?
What does the world’s leading expert on savant abilities think?
Well, people like Sorrel and others who have acquired amazing abilities after brain injuries have led Treffert to conclude we all must have genius in us but sometimes it takes an injury like Sorrel’s to bring it out. Other researchers disagree and say that savants are just able to overcompensate for damage to the left side of the brain.” (Gupta 2006)
Judge for yourself. Even if you’re not a doctor it seems pretty obvious that not all savant abilities are just overcompensating. Ellen (from our other article on savants) has tremendous spatial awareness of objects around her which we could expect in someone who is blind. If the theory of the other researchers were correct we could label that compensating because one area is making up for a lack in another area. But the other abilities she and other savants have such as perfect awareness of the passage of time or the ability to reproduce on paper an entire city skyline after just seeing it once does not give any added benefit or compensation that would help a person’s survival.
For more information on savants visit the Wisconsin Medical Society’s website.