About Darold Treffert MD

Dr. Treffert completed both medical school and a psychiatric residency at the University of Wisconsin where he has been a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry. Following his training he developed the Child-Adolescent Unit at Winnebago Mental Health Institute. It was there he met his first autistic savant in 1962 and has been engaged in research on savant syndrome since that time, exploring the unique window into the brain, memory and creativity that this remarkable condition provides. Dr. Treffert has published two books on savant syndrome. Extraordinary People: Understanding Savant Syndrome has been published in ten languages. His most recent book Islands of Genius: The Bountiful Mind of the Autistic, Acquired and Sudden Savant was published in April, 2010. He has been a contributor to numerous articles in professional journals and has participated in many broadcast and documentary television programs including those in the U.S., Japan, Sweden, Korea, South Africa, Germany, England and many other countries. In his efforts to raise public understanding about autism and savant syndrome he has regularly appeared on programs such as 60 Minutes, Oprah, Today, CBS Evening News and many others. Dr. Treffert was a consultant to the award-winning movie Rain Man which made “autistic savant” household terms and he maintains a very internationally respected website at www.savantsyndrome.com hosted by the Wisconsin Medical Society which has kept him in touch with many persons around the world with savant syndrome and their families. Dr. Treffert has been a member of the medical staff of St. Agnes Hospital since 1963. He currently is a research consultant to Doll and Associates and the AABCC program working with Dr. Matt Doll and staff on some autism research projects.
Author Archive | Darold Treffert MD
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You’ve got your connections

It is astounding to me that with 7.2 billion people on earth,  no two faces are exactly alike. They all have a nose, eyes, lips, chin, teeth, cheekbones and foreheads, but how those parts are particularly connected makes each face unique. The same can be said about the brain. While each person has a cortex, [...]

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“Rustproofing” People: Wellness in Perspective

While a very welcome concept, I don’t have a particular fondness for the term “wellness.” While “sickness” seems right as a noun, “wellness” feels a bit awkward as a noun. Maybe it’s just me. The term I prefer is “rustproofing” ourselves. In 1972, I wrote an article with that title in Postgraduate Medicine listing the [...]

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Is the mischief in drugs or in people?

In the 1960s when I was superintendent of the Winnebago Mental Health Institute, we began to see an influx, for the first time, of a number of teenage and young adult drug abusers. This was happening throughout the United States and other countries. There were very few programs in the country specializing in treatment of [...]

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Dr. Treffert

Acquired Savant Syndrome: Accessing our ‘inner savant’

About one in ten persons with autism is a savant.  Savant syndrome is a remarkable condition in which extraordinary musical, artistic or mathematical skills exist side by side with autism or other serious mental disability.    It raises questions about how often dormant potential goes undiscovered in persons with handicaps.  But recent cases of ‘acquired savant [...]

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My marvelous journey with incredible savants: What have I learned?

I met my first savant when I developed a Children’s Unit at Winnebago Mental Health Institute in 1962.  In the 50+ years since that time I have had the privilege of meeting so many persons with this extraordinary talent superimposed on some underlying limitations demonstrating the remarkable juxtaposition of incredible ability and disability within the [...]

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Have you ever been mellow?

Through my years as a physician, I have developed an interest in what I call “rustproofing people”—taking good care of ourselves, like we do of our cars in order to last longer and look better. There is a great deal written about taking care of one’s physical health—common sense and moderation in food and drink, [...]

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autism

Savant Syndrome: A little Rain Man within us all?

I met my first savant in 1962 when I developed a Children’s Unit at Winnebago Mental Health Institute.  This jarring juxtaposition of ability and disability in the same person intrigued me then, and intrigues me still.  The savant best known to the Fond du Lac area is Leslie Lemke who many remember from the story [...]

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autism

Getting to Know Savant Syndrome: Final Part

Might there be a little Rain Man in each of us? The idea that some savant capabilities – a little Rain Man – might reside in each of us rises from several observations. First, there have been instances reported of previously non-disabled, “normal” individuals in whom some previously latent savant skills emerged following a head [...]

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autism

Getting to Know Savant Syndrome: Part VII

How often does the savant lose his or her special skills? In my experience, not very often. Indeed, quite to the contrary, continued practice and use of the special skills generally leads to greater ability, more facility and increased expertise. For many years there was a debate, in trying to help the savant, whether to [...]

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autism

Getting to Know Savant Syndrome: Part VI

What causes savant syndrome? While a number of theories have been put forth to date, no single theory can explain all savants. Some of those theories have included eidetic imagery or the related but separate phenomenon generally called photographic memory; inherited skills; sensory deprivation and sensory isolation with overcompensation in isolated skills, compensation, ritualistic practice [...]

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