An investigation into the clinical and cognitive correlates of savant skills in intellectually able children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Bennett, Emily. 2013. An investigation into the clinical and cognitive correlates of savant skills in intellectually able children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Whilst traditional definitions of savant syndrome assumed an association between intellectual impairment and talent in atypical populations, reports of outstanding talents in intellectually high functioning individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) highlighted limitations in these early definitions and led to a reconsideration of the syndrome. This redefinition raised interesting questions about how talented high functioning individuals with ASD might differ from those with the same diagnosis but without outstanding talents. Motivated by early and more recent theoretical models of savant syndrome, the studies described in this thesis investigated the clinical and cognitive correlates of savant syndrome in a comparison of age and intelligence matched children with ASD who did or did not possess outstanding skills. In the clinical assessment phase of testing, participants with outstanding skills, validated across a number of domains, together with groups of ASD and typically developing (TD) control participants completed tests of symptom severity, sensory abnormality and obsessionality. The results from these assessments failed to reveal a significant difference on measures of symptom severity between the ASD groups, although the savants appeared to be less impaired in the domain of creativity. There was also a trend for savants to be less impaired in sensory domains, and this was particularly marked in visual and auditory filtering which may be important for savant skills. The two ASD groups did not differ on the numbers of obsessions reported, although savant obsessions tended to be more focussed on functional domains (e.g. crafts and numbers) than the obsessions reported for non-savants. Both ASD groups showed marked obsessional tendencies in comparison to TD controls. The cognitive test battery probed concentration, intelligence, cognitive style and pattern perception in the two groups. This revealed superior concentration, pattern perception and performance on several measures of intelligence and local processing in the savant group. However, a logistic regression analysis carried out on the tests that distinguished savants and non-savants in the group comparison studies, showed that measures of concentration and working memory were most powerful in predicting savant status. It was therefore concluded that whilst new theoretical accounts of savant syndrome, highlighting superior pattern processing abilities, provide an advance on earlier theories, they underestimate the importance of working memory and therefore merit further revision.

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Thesis (Doctoral)

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Date Deposited:

25 Mar 2013 14:52

Last Modified:

06 Sep 2022 22:05


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