The Academy award-winning film Rain Man brought national - indeed international - attention to savant syndrome. But since it was first described more than a century ago, the phenomenon of the savant syndrome - islands of genius and ability in stark juxtaposition to handicap and disability - has remained unexplained. This page explores savant syndrome in depth, and provides profiles of specific savants, some of whom have prodigious skills and abilities. Darold A. Treffert, M.D., past president of the Wisconsin Medical Society, has studied savant syndrome for over 50 years. He was a consultant to the movie Rain Man. A website about savant syndrome was started in 1997 through the Wisconsin Medical Society Foundation and was maintained by the Wisconsin Medical Society through the end of 2019. The content is currently being transferred to this website. Here Dr. Treffert describes the condition, reviews, and summarizes the world literature on the topic, and catalogs and categorizes savant abilities. He also provides a bibliography for further study.
Dr. Treffert's first book - Extraordinary People: Understanding Savant Syndrome - has been translated into ten languages. His more recent book - Islands of Genius: The Bountiful Mind of the Autistic, Acquired and Sudden Savant - was published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers in 2010. The book provides an update on well-known savants Dr. Treffert has been following for years and explores new cases, particularly the acquired savant in which neurotypical persons demonstrate previously dormant savant skills, sometimes at a prodigious level, following head injury or a central nervous system incident. It also explores genetic memory - how savants know things they never learned. Both the acquired savant and genetic memory have vast implications for accessing dormant potential - a little Rain Man perhaps - within us all.
In 2016 the Treffert Center, sponsored by Agnesian HealthCare in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, opened on the campus of St. Agnes Hospital. A library houses Dr. Treffert's vast collection books, videos, and articles on savant syndrome to be shared with other researchers worldwide on request. It also houses a unique collection of savant artwork including paintings, drawings, silhouettes and sculptures from around the world.
Click here to read an eight-part conversation on creativity, autism and savant syndrome with Dr. Treffert and Psychology Today.