Michael John Watts had lived most of his childhood and all his adult life in the same house. It was the house his parents had bought when he and his younger sister Sofia were still toddlers.“I had always seemed strange to my fellow humans both in childhood and as an adult. I don’t think either my parents or my schoolteachers recognised my talents nor my problems.
“I am told I was almost three years old before I ever put more than two words together, but I never really had much to say.”
Words did not seem very useful to Michael, not like colours and shapes.
“I could do amazing calculations in my head from my seventh birthday onwards even though I could barely read text despite everybody’s time they wasted on me.
“If you could be inside my mind you will see that I don’t see numbers, I see a landscape of shapes and colours. So if you asked me what is the result of multiplying several numbers together I saw the result as a moving set of colours and shapes and the result was easy for me to translate back into numbers.”
Michael was what we now call a Savant. He had what is often known as Savant Syndrome and is sometimes abbreviated as “savantism”. Curiously a savanter in French is a person of learning, especially one of great knowledge in a particular subject, however, we associate it with being autistic or withdrawn.
Michael’s developmental difficulties were during his childhood and he was sent to Friars Palace. The diagnosis was that he had been somehow injured as a child and the left side of his brain had been impaired.
The truth is that we humans all have latent savant abilities but these are obscured by the normal functioning intellect. Savant-like skills can be improved in a healthy individual by temporary disruption of the left front part of the brain.
Michael, like most autistic savants have exceptional mental abilities, not handicaps as we may perceive them. Most demonstrate their skills recalling facts – car license plates, music, maps, extensive lists of sports and weather statistics – having only being exposed to them once.
Copyright © Stuart Danton 2007