University of Wisconsin–Madison Medical College of Wisconsin

The Sudden Savant: A New Form of Extraordinary Abilities

Darold A. Treffert, MD; Hunter J. Ries

WMJ. 2021;120(1):69-73.

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Introduction: Savant syndrome previously has been characterized as either congenital or acquired. This report describes sudden savant syndrome in which neurotypical persons have the sudden emergence of savant skills without underlying disability or brain injury and without prior interest or ability in the newly emerged skill areas.

Case Presentation: Eleven cases are described in which savant abilities suddenly and unexpectedly surfaced in neurotypical persons with no special prior interest or ability in the new skills, accompanied by an obsessive interest with and compulsive need to display the new abilities. All participants completed an online survey to record their demographics and skill characteristics.

Discussion: The acquired savant, and now the sudden savant, raise questions about the dormant potential for such buried skills in everyone. The challenge is to be able to tap such latent abilities without head injury or other precipitating events.

Conclusion: This paper documents 11 cases of sudden savant syndrome, which is a new and additional form of savant abilities surfacing in neurotypical persons without developmental disabilities (such as autism) or head or other brain injury (acquired savant syndrome). It opens new paths of inquiry for exploration of extraordinary abilities perhaps within everyone.

Author Affiliations: Treffert Center, Agnesian HealthCare, Fond du Lac, WI (Treffert); University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wis (Ries).
Address Correspondance to: Matthew Doll, PhD, Director of Behavioral Health, Outpatient, Treffert Center and Autism Services, 430 E Division St, Fond du Lac, WI 54935; phone 920.926.4201; email
Funding/Support: None declared.
Financial Disclosures: None declared.
Additional Information: Lead author Darold Treffert, MD, died December 14, 2020.
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