Savant Skills

This post originally appeared on the Field Notes on Allistics Tumblr.

Yesterday, during my discussion of allistic children’s inability to understand boundaries, I made this observation:

“My allistic children, for example, have the disturbing habit of attempting to hug just about anyone they recognize.”

Today, I want to put the emphasis on recognize in order to talk about one thing that really seems to have given my allistic children an advantage over normal children: both Al Jr and Alia (and, for that matter, my allistic husband, Al) have a savantlike ability to remember faces.

I realize “savant” is a loaded word – after all, a “savant” ability is one that would be unusual even in a normal person, and an extensive associative memory is par for the course in most human beings.  But my kids (and husband) seem to be able to remember the faces and names of people they have only met once.  They can even remember the faces, names, and prior films of movie actors just from hearing the actor’s voice!  It’s astonishing.

Normal children, of course, can’t do this.  As every first-year child development student knows, it’s one of the reasons normal human beings evolved such deep associative attachments with objects: so that other human beings could recognize us by what we wore, or carried.  But allistic children don’t seem to need this “recognition reminders”: they seem to find sufficiently unique markers in human faces and voices.  (I wonder if this is why they don’t form associative attachments with their possessions?)

I don’t mean to paint my children as special snowflakes.  It just astonishes me that, within the forest of such a devastating disability, my kids can have this one power that defies explanation.  Even though it’s useless in real life, it’s beautiful in its own way.


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