Dysfunctional attention in autistic savants
A dysfunctional attention hypothesis of the basis of savant skills was tested with a series of computerized tasks that assessed the ability to divide, shift, direct, and sustain attention. Ten healthy men with pervasive developmental disorders and unusual calendar-calculating skill, and 10 age- and sex-matched controls were tested. There were four general findings. First, the savants and controls did not differ on a measure of visual sustained attention. Second, the savants failed to detect rare auditory targets significantly more than did the controls. Third, the savants were unable to efficiently divide their attention when required to detect both visual and auditory targets simultaneously. Finally, deficient orienting or a deficit in shifting selective attention from one stimulus location to another was evidenced in overall slower reaction times for the savants across tasks requiring shifts and redirecting of attention. This deficit was attributed to an inability to disengage attention as a result of deficient orienting and overselectivity.