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
People identified as idiot savants have long comprised an identifiable group (a high level of skill in the context of perceived mental deficiency) whose story has mostly been told by psychiatrists and psychologists within a medicalized model of disability that assumes deficiency and seeks remediation and normalization. More recently, people identified as savants have become common figures of literary and cinematic representation. Both of these narrative frames have enfreaked them as alien Others, whose gifts and disabilities place them outside the normal run of human intelligence and creativity. With a focus on music, this article tries to see through these narrative scrims to give a realistic account of the intellectual, musical, and creative lives of ten musicians identified as savants. Their distinctively autistic intelligence and autistic creativity are shown to enable their style of music making, and their musicianship bespeaks and makes visible/audible their autism. Specifically, they do at a high level and in a culturally valorized arena (music), what most autistic people do throughout their lives, namely pursue certain kinds of special interests in an intense and focused way.