In the early 1980’s, the movie Rain Man, which featured Dustin Hoffman in the role of a disabled man with remarkable skills of memory, brought national attention to a phenomenon known as Savant Syndrome. People with Savant Syndrome have both a developmental disability (mental retardation or autism) and a spectacular, genius-level skill in a specific area.
The interest in savants created by the Rain Man character resulted in several television specials on the subject that featured some of the real savants in the country. One of these individuals was Alonzo Clemons, an artist known for producing marvelous animal sculptures from memory alone. His appearance on the shows including 60 Minutes, Geraldo and the Discovery Channel’s World of Wonder provided Clemons with the exposure which gave the opportunity to become represented in fine arts galleries and gain worldwide recognition for his work.
Dr. Darold Treffert, America’s leading expert on the Savant Syndrome served as a consultant to Dustin Hoffman for his role in the Rain Man and also is a personal friend of Alonzo Clemons.
Dr. Treffert writes this about the Savant Syndrome:
Savant Syndrome is a rare, but spectacular, condition in which persons with various developmental disabilities have astonishing islands of ability or brilliance that stand in stark, markedly incongruous, contrast to the handicap (talented savants).
In others, with a much rarer form of the condition, the ability is not only spectacular in contrast to the handicap, but would be spectacular even if viewed in a normal person (prodigious savant).
There are fewer than 100 reported cases of prodigious savants in world literature. There a probably fewer than 25 prodigious savants living at the present time. Some of those include Leslie Lemke (music), Alonzo Clemons (sculpting), Richard Wawro (painting), Stephen Wilshire (drawing) and Tony DeBlois (music).
More information about the Savant Syndrome is
available in the following resources:
Chapters are devoted to Alonzo Clemons in the following books:
Dr. Treffert’s new book: “Islands of Genius: The Bountiful Mind of the
Autistic, Acquired, and Sudden Savant”
The Book “Extraordinary People: Understanding Savant Syndrome”
by Dr. Darold A. Treffert
Available through the http://www.iuniverse.com/ web site.
The magazine Scientific American, “ Islands of Genius,”
June 2002 By Dr. Darold A. Treffert and Gregory Wallace