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Processing of Information in Autistic Savants

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Processing of information in autistic savants

Alexandra Gotay

University of Puerto Rico

Mayagüez Campus


Autism is the most common condition of the developmental disorders known as the autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). It’s characterized by the impairment of social interaction and communication and causes repetitive and restrictive behavior. Despite having mental or physical disabilities, savants have spectacular talents. Half the people with savant syndrome are also part of the autistic community. Being one of the most intriguing conditions in humans, many theories have come about as to why this happens. Some believe is due to an abnormal development of the brain due to genetic factors, while others believe it to be environmental. Children with autism are doubly stigmatized. They are dismissed as mentally retarded and when they show exceptional abilities their brilliance marginalized as aberrations. A group of Canadian scientists wanted to prove that people with autism are capable of high-level thinking, but first they needed to find the right test, given that they thought that WISC test was biased, relying heavily on language. Using the Raven’s Progressive Matrices they were able to show the children’s true intelligence by bypassing the language deficit. The reason as to why they use unique cognitive pathways to problem solving might not be known but with new technologies every day the answer might be closer.

Processing of information in autistic savants

        Autism is the most common condition in a group of five developmental disorders known as pervasive developmental disorders (PDD). These include autism, Rhett’s syndrome, Childhood disintegrative disorder, Asperger’s syndrome and pervasive developmental disorders not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS).  These disorders are characterized by severe and pervasive impairments’ in several areas of development. All PDD’s are neurological disorders usually evident by age three. Their intelligence quotients average at approximately 50, as compared to the average 100.

        Children with autism have difficulties with social interactions. They may fail to respond to their name and often avoid eye contact. These children start speaking later than others and may refer to themselves by name instead of “I” or “me”. They are also more likely to repeat words and reverse pronoun. Autistic individuals display many forms of restrictive behaviors, some of which include ritualistic behavior, compulsive behavior, resistance to change, etc.

        Autism varies widely in its severity and symptoms. Scientists aren’t certain as to what causes autism. There are both environmental and genetic theories. Studies have shown several genes associated with autism, strongly suggesting some families may have a predisposition to autism. In families with one autistic child, the risk of having another child with the disorder is greater than for the general population, at about one in 20 (5%). Scientists are looking for a gene that might be responsible for this increase in susceptibility. In some cases, relatives of an autistic child show deficits in social and communicative skills as well as repetitive behavior. These syndrome is six time more likely to occur in men than in women. Other studies show that children with autism have abnormal levels of serotonin in several regions of their brain. This suggests that autism may arise very early in fetal development caused by defects in genes that control brain growth and regulate communication between neurons. Also the theory of prenatal practices being responsible for autism has not been disapproved.

        Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) has shown several neurological differences in the autistic brain. Brain weight and volume tend to be greater in children with autism. Some neural structures in the limbic system, which include the hippocampus and amygdale, contain nerve cells that are not mature and have not migrated to their proper locations in the brain. Loss in Purkinje cells and their connection to the cerebellum have been noted, impeding several aspects of motor function. These are thought to be the result of genetic disorders during the late stages of brain differentiation, based on animal and twin studies. There is no cure for autism. For many individuals, autism symptoms can improve with treatment and age. Those, whose language skills regress before the age of three, appear to be at greater risk of developing epilepsy or seizure-like brain activity. Some children with autism may become depressed or experience behavioral problems during adolescence.

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