An Examination of Savant Syndrome among Children and Adults With an Autism Spectrum Disorder
The idea that people on the spectrum can possess extraordinary abilities have appeared in popular culture for as long as most of us can remember. The most well-known example is Rain Man, the 1988 film about an autistic savant named Raymond Babbitt who had the ability to perform extraordinary calculations in his head.
What some might not know is that the inspiration for Raymond’s character originated with a real person named Kim Peek. Peek wasn’t on the autism spectrum but was born with significant brain damage. Though he lacked certain social and motor skills, he had a massive capacity for memory. He demonstrated the ability to read and memorize entire novels in under an hour!
This phenomenon, called “savant syndrome,” has been observed in both autistic and otherwise mentally challenged people for centuries. While Rain Man received some criticism for creating a stereotype that people on the autism spectrum often possess these savant skills, there is considerable research surrounding this topic. In this article, we’re going to examine the link between the autism spectrum and Savant Syndrome.
What is Savant Syndrome?
A savant is defined as someone with significant mental disabilities who possesses an ability that far exceeds the human average in a specific skill. In about half the documented cases of Savant Syndrome, the subject has an Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Most often, the subject can demonstrate extraordinary ability in a narrow skillset. Whatever the specific skill, it is almost always related to memory. Specific skills might include mathematics, artistic or musical skills, or map-making.
The very first documented case of savant syndrome appeared in a German psychological journal in 1783. Though the terminology didn’t exist at the time, the journal describes an autistic man named Jedediah Buxton who possessed the ability to complete incredibly complex calculations in his head.
Since then, many savants have been identified and researched, but the cause and prevalence of savant syndrome are the subject of some debate.
Estimates for the occurrence of savant syndrome vary widely, but most experts agree that is uncommon or even rare. As many as one in 10 and as few as one in 200 people with an autism spectrum disorder are expected to excel in a specific skill.
Savant or Not - Autism is a Superpower
Savant Syndrome might be rarer than Hollywood lets on, but there’s no denying that people with autism experience the world in a different way than those without. They might not be able to make lightning-fast mental calculations or memorize volumes, but the way people with autism look at the world, the way they see other people, and their amazing capacity for love is something that’s truly amazing.
If anything, the existence of savant syndrome should teach us is that everybody thinks and behaves differently, and we should learn to look for the extraordinary in each and every person rather than focus on the things we perceive as negative.
If you live with a child with autism, it is no surprise that traveling with an autistic child requires a plan. You need to prepare for the unusual demands that can materialize when away from home. The team at Positive Synergy offers these tips for traveling with an autistic child.
Prepare and Practice
When traveling with a child who experiences autism, be sure to give them an idea of what to expect on the journey. Whether you are traveling by car, by train, or by airplane, you can discuss what the child might encounter during the trek.
You can even practice by visiting the point of departure or taking extended car trips to acclimate your child. If possible, prepare photos of some of the places you will see on your travels. Being able to anticipate what is coming next, with visual prompts, will help your child feel at ease.
Bring the Familiar
Don’t leave home without your child’s special stuffed animal, security blanket, or other attachment items. Most of us like to travel with our tokens of comfort, and your child is no different. It is vital to provide something to soothe your kiddo if they become over-stimulated during your travels. Keep these familiar items close by during the trip.
Cut Out All the Noise Possible
Traveling is extremely noisy. Airports, train stations, and even the open highway generally create too much stimulation for a child with autism. Noise-canceling headphones are a great option to address this. Employing the aid of tablets and other mobile devices also can make traveling with an autistic child much more relaxed.
Pack the Snacks
Preparing your meals and snacks in advance is a great idea when traveling with a child with autism. A full stomach always makes traveling more comfortable. And for children dealing with autism, having familiar foods available is essential. Many children with autism also have a limited range of foods they will eat. So be prepared. Do not rely on being able to find specific foods when you are on the road.
Ramp Up the Safety
Elopement, or wandering off, can be a serious issue when traveling with an autistic child. Unfamiliar surroundings and the stress of being out of their comfort zone can cause children to roam. Consider getting a smartwatch for your child to wear. These devices allow you to keep track of them even if they wander. Be sure your child wears an ID bracelet, such as a medical alert bracelet, with your contact information clearly displayed.
Keep Your Routines As Normal As You Can
We all thrive with structure and don’t want anything to disrupt it. A child with autism is especially sensitive to a shake-up in their routines. Keep as much normalcy in place as possible, especially around eating and sleeping. It can make all the difference in how well the trip goes and is worth the extra effort.
ABA Helps When Traveling with an Autistic Child
The ABA experts at Positive Synergy can help you and your child prepare for any changes you have coming up. From travel to holiday schedules, we have the tools to help your family be ready for success.
It can be difficult to make connections with other people. This is true whether you are five or 55 years old, but especially so for children on the autism spectrum. These feelings are only compounded when he or she is spending all day in a school classroom without their friends, something that could lead to loneliness and increased anxiety.
Your son or daughter being able to connect with other students in their classroom will be important to keeping stress levels low, interest in learning, and overall tensions to a minimum. Here are some of our favorite tips for helping your child navigate making new friends in school.
Encourage your child to share Interests with others
Bond over after school activities
This has a dual benefit, as your child might make some new friends while also getting exposure to something new and exciting. Activities like Girl or Boy Scouts, sports programs, art classes, and music classes will encourage gradual sensory stimulation.
Helping your child on the spectrum work on many of their needed skills to give them creative outlets to express themselves. These activities also give your child opportunities to meet other children who are at the same stage, something they can bond over as they grow together.
Remind your child to smile
Keep your spirits up
Not every interaction between your child and their classmates will end up in a rewarding connection becoming best friends. It is important to make sure your son or daughter knows that rejection is something we all face from time to time.
It can be hard for children to process rejection, so you will want to make sure you keep them focused on being excited about the chance to make a friend.
It can be difficult to make friends, especially when your child struggles with feelings like stress and social anxiety. Remind them that being a kind and caring person is always a good thing — no matter how close you end up being — and that true friendships will always work out in the end.
Going back to school is an exciting time for families. Parents get to have a little bit more time of their own than they’ve had in a while, and children get back to classes to learn new things and spend time with their friends. The back-to-school season might also be a little bit of a stressful time for your son or daughter.
As a parent, you know that disruptions to the daily routine can be a bit challenging for children on the spectrum. You probably work quite hard to keep things as “normal” as possible throughout the week and keep such disruptions to a minimum, which means some end-of-the day relaxation and fun might be just what your whole family needs.
Here are a few of our favorite tips for relaxing and unwinding after a long day or even week at school.
Get Outside as a Group
Children typically have recess, but that means they’re spending literally hours each day cooped up in classrooms and focused on learning. That also means your child is likely full of pent up energy, and running around outside is always a great answer.
Studies have shown that time outdoors, exercising, and getting fresh air all have healing benefits that can help reduce anxiety and stress, alleviate depression, improve mood and focus, and more, meaning you’ll be doing something great for everyone’s health.
Play tag, go to a park and climb on jungle gyms, or just sit together and discuss the day — just be surrounded by nature while you’re doing it.
Have Some Arts and Crafts Time
The homework is done and dinner has been had, so what’s more fun than unwinding with arts and crafts? Play with something fun and oozy like homemade slime, build with blocks, color pictures with scented markers, paint with watercolor paints, or make fun models out of modeling clay and watch as they bake in the oven.
Getting your child’s hands into a project will be educational, informative, and relaxing, not to mention creative and fun.
Try Yoga for Families
It is widely known that yoga has myriad health benefits, including improving flexibility, boosting blood flow and circulation, calming breathing, toning muscles, rejuvenating body systems, improving focus, relieving sleep issues, enhancing coordination, and reducing anxiety and depression. The fun animal names for poses make yoga great for parents and children alike, and yoga for families can provide great bonding opportunities that bring you closer together while also furthering your creativity.
Consider signing up for a yoga for families class, or purchase a DVD program that you can do as a family from the comfort of your own home. You can even have your family members all create their own pose.
Read a Book Together
Sure, your child might be in class reading and learning all day, but who doesn’t love the opportunity to read a favorite book in a cozy chair or while tucked into bed? Make sure it’s a favorite story, one that your child knows and can enjoy.
Read it together, making funny voices for each of the characters or pointing out your favorite parts of each picture. Play a game imagining what each of the characters is doing outside of the story pages, letting your creative juices flow.
Hope these fun activities help after a long day at school or over a much needed weekend, and provide your child the mental and physical relaxation needed.
The warm summer months are often filled with fun events, vacations, sunny days, outdoor activities, and plenty of time with family and friends. The season is just long enough to create a new norm for your family. That means your son or daughter with autism will need to adjust back to the daily grind of school in what feels like no time at all.
Go on a school tour
Get the schedule started early
Get good sleep!
Set up a meeting with faculty
Most teachers are available in the weeks before the school year starts because they’re setting up their classrooms and preparing their lesson plans.
Arrange a sit down with them to discuss how to make the year a successful one, including offering tips to understand your child’s strengths and weaknesses.
Try a hug button
Here’s wishing you a happy and safe end-of-summer and back-to-school season!
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