Do you watch the Good Doctor? It’s an American medical series, now on Season 4, based on an award-winning South Korean drama. The leading character in the series is Shaun Murphy, who has autism, and… Savant syndrome. As defined by Treffert (2019), savant syndrome is “a rare condition in which someone with significant mental disabilities demonstrates certain abilities far in excess of average”. So Shaun might not be very good in communication and socialising with his colleagues, patients and their family, he is still extraordinary surgeon.
There is a Malaysia produced movie, based on a Malaysian true story, “Guang” (you can find the 15 min version here on Youtube). The leading character in this movie is Guang, who has autism spectrum disorder, and special talent in music.
I can list a number more of movies and series which are about autism, and almost all the time, the leading role in them have savant syndrome.
So do people with autism always have savant syndrome?
I have met quite a number of people with autism spectrum disorder during my years of practice and in my personal life. The answer is no. In fact, none of them has savant syndrome.
According to Treffert, roughly 1 in 10 persons with autism have some remarkable abilities in varying degrees. Yes, 10% is not high at all, but considered that savant syndrome only present in one in a million (1,000,000) people, you see that it’s considered “common” in people with autism.
So I guess that explains why those movies and dramas tend to portray autism this way. It even gave hope to a lot of parents who have children with autism, but no matter how they tried, they couldn’t find the “special talent”. What adds to the frustration, is when we often expect there is something special with the kid, and ask them about it.
“Oh your boy is autistic? What’s his special ability?”