Considering a Connection Between Sudden Genius and Autistic Savant Syndrome

By Michelle Collins

I was reading this article the other day, The Mystery of Why Some People Become Sudden Geniuses, maybe because I had too much time on my hands, or maybe because I was hoping for insight into how I, too, could become a sudden genius. And while I'm definitely not very keen on sustaining a sudden brain injury myself (which is how most of the people profiled in the article became sudden geniuses), I was pretty interested to learn about the possible connections between injured brains displaying sudden genius and autistic brains.

According to this article, researchers have found that when the brain is injured, dead and dying cells leak serotonin into the surrounding tissue, an effect similar to how LSD affects the brain. Physically, this seems to encourage new connections between brain regions - new connections that researchers have seen clearly when imaging brains post-injury. And when these new connections between brain regions are forged, researchers have found that other brain regions that had been more dominant prior to the injury can become less dominant, thus allowing the newly-dominant brain regions to become stronger, sometimes manifesting as "sudden genius" such as when a person hit by lightening suddenly becomes a world-class painter or musician afterward.

How does all this information connect to an autistic brain you ask? Well interestingly, researchers have found that people who develop sudden genius post-brain injury frequently begin to develop symptoms of autism in conjunction with their sudden genius. Conversely, it seems that 1 out of 10 autistic brains exhibit some level or form of "savant syndrome", possibly from lower levels of serotonin in the brain's left hemisphere in childhood which prevent it from developing the in same way as a brain with higher levels of serotonin in the left hemisphere would, and resulting in the right hemisphere becoming stronger due to its "normal" levels of serotonin, which are "elevated" as compared to the left hemisphere's lowered levels.

So does a diagnosis of autism mean a person is, or will suddenly become, a genius or savant? No. A diagnosis of autism means a person has autism. And does a brain injury mean that someone will become a sudden genius? Not necessarily. But hopefully this research will help people diagnosed with autism continue to unlock their own special genius, however it may be expressed. And maybe with enough hard work on my part, there's a chance I, too, will become a sudden genius without getting bashed in the head.