Idiots Savants, Retarded Savants, Talented Aments, Mono-Savants, Autistic Savants, Just Plain Savants, People with Savant Syndrome, and Autistic People Who Are Good at Things: A View from Disability Studies


  • Joseph Straus Graduate Center, City University of New York



Idiot savant, savant syndrome, autism


People with a particular profile of strengths and weaknesses—typically involving prodigious skill in one area (such as calendar or arithmetical calculation, art, or music) and a general “mental deficiency”—have long been categorized as “idiots savants,” or with other, similar labels.  It is the goal of this paper to dismantle this category in all of its terminological manifestations by deconstructing both the “idiocy” and the “savantism” that underpin it.  In its place, I focus instead on people with autism, who typically have special interests and activities they pursue intensively and skillfully: people identified as savants are mostly autistic, and autistic people usually have some sort of special interest or skill.  For the idiot savant, the savant skill is understood to emerge in spite of the general lack of intelligence.  For the autistic person, the special interests or skills arise not in spite of the autism but precisely because of it: autism enables the skill; the skill makes the autism visible.  Instead of enfreaking people as super-crips, I propose to celebrate them in a realistic mode, as autistic people who are good at things.

Keywords: Idiot savant, savant syndrome, autism. 






Humanities, Arts, and Media