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Numbers and letters: Exploring an autistic savant's unpractised ability

By Linda Pring and Beate Hermelin


This paper describes an individual with autism and high-level calendar calculation ability who could perform a set of unpractised letter/number association tasks. The savant's performance was compared with that of two control participants, one a departmental secretary and the other a professor of mathematics. The facility with which the savant could master the rules governing the relationships between the series of items suggests that he possessed a flexibility of mental processing transcending his ability of calendar calculation. Furthermore, he could recalibrate previous knowledge to solve new hitherto unpractised tasks. When presented with novel problems, the savant, unlike the mathematician, made no initial errors at all on any of the presented tasks, thereby indicating his fast and spontaneous recognition of new rules and of new relationships between items. It is concluded that a cognitive style of 'weak central coherence' as adopted by autistic savants may protect single representations from being retained in the form of stable enduring wholes, and that such a segmentation strategy may allow for the transformation, reorganization and reconstruction of the relationship between single items of information

Publisher: Psychology Press
Year: 2002
OAI identifier:

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