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Child Prodigies And Autistic Savants: The Common Link

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What does music maestro Mozart, Spanish artist Pablo Picasso, poet William Cullen Bryant or horror writer Howard Phillips Lovecraft, to name a few, have in common? Well, it is the amazing prowess they displayed in their respective fields even as a child.

Simply put, they were all famous child prodigies and we also have quite a few such contemporary examples. Variables like inherent ability, domain-specific skills and extreme training are regarded as the attributing factors for their exceptional achievement.

A new study conducted to better understand the basis of the extraordinary individuals' talent suggests that there is a link between child prodigies and autism. Researchers examined the cognitive and developmental profiles of eight child prodigies, in the age range of 7 to 32 years, by taking their developmental histories and administering the Stanford-Binet 5th ed. full scale intelligence test and the Autism-Spectrum Quotient, or AQ.

Four of the study subjects are musical prodigies, two who switched domains (from music to gastronomy and from music to art), one an art prodigy and another a math whiz, who developed a new discipline in mathematics and, at the age of thirteen, had a paper accepted for publication in a mathematics journal.

During testing, each of the prodigies demonstrated an at least moderately elevated level of intelligence, an exceptional working memory and attention to detail, according to the researchers.

However, the startling fact revealed by the study is the presence of autistic traits among the prodigies and prevalence of autism in the prodigies' families. Three of the eight tested prodigies had a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorders and four of the eight families have a first- or second-degree relative with an autism diagnosis.

But that said, unlike autistic savants (individuals with autism who have extraordinary skills not exhibited by most persons) who display many of the deficits commonly associated with autism, the child prodigies do not display those deficits.

The researchers credit a 'biological modifier' for suppressing many of the typical signs of autism in the child prodigies and leaving their quality of 'attention to detail' undiminished or even enhanced.

So, is it a moderated autism that is actually enabling the prodigies' extraordinary talent? Study authors conclude that additional research should be conducted to explore this possibility and identify any such moderator. After all, a moderator for autism could have significant benefits for that community.

The findings appear in Ruthsatz, J., & Urbach, J.B., Child prodigy: A novel cognitive profile places elevated general intelligence, exceptional working memory and attention to detail..., an article slated for publication in Intelligence, a peer-reviewed academic journal of psychology.

by RTT Staff Writer

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