Subjects: Behavioral health
From a Filipino marimba prodigy to a hyper-precise British carpenter to Kim Peek, the person with an eidetic memory whose character was portrayed by Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, stories of gifted people who have developmental disabilities have created buzz for decades.
Now scientists are beginning to understand the link, and have begun to speculate how the new information might apply to “neurotypicals.”
King’s College scientist Patricia Howlin for example, will soon post a paper in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society suggesting that up to 30% of autistic people possess some kind of savant-like ability in areas like computation and music.
And Francesca Happe will contribute a piece suggesting that the genius may derive from RBBIs, restrictive and repetitive behaviors that are a sine qua non of the autistic spectrum.
Obsessive interests and behaviors, Happe speculates, enable afflicted individuals to practice, even if inadvertently, the skill they have become obsessed with.
Malcolm Gladwell wouldn’t disagree.
In his new book, “Outliers,” the popular author cites research suggesting that many people can achieve greatness at something if they’re willing to practice it for oh, say, 10,000 hours.
According to the line of reasoning, this would be cake for many autistic individuals, whereas their neurotypical counterparts would long since have given up due to boredom.
To build her case, Happé refers to a twin study that found childhood talent in art and music to be associated with RRBIs, even in people that do not meet classical criteria for autism.
As Happe explained to the Economist, “the child with autism who would happily spend hours spinning coins, or watching drops of water fall from his fingers, might be considered a connoisseur, seeing minute differences between events that others regard as pure repetition.”