Schweda Analysis 3: Baskerville

After our discussion last Monday, I decided to further research the term “savant” in relationship to autism and Sherlock Holmes.  To begin with the absolute basics, Meriam-Webster defines the word savant as either “a person who knows a lot about a particular subject” or “a person who does not have normal intelligence but who has very unusual mental abilities that other people do not have”.  With his unique detective skills, Sherlock Holmes clearly fits the first definition however I’m not 100% sold on the second part. It’s hard to clearly define “normal intelligence” but Sherlock Holmes has at least the basic functions to make it in the real world without a strong dependence on any sort of assistance (besides splitting rent with Watson, although that’s not a completely unusual circumstance).

From there, I decided to research the autistic savant. The Wisconsin Medical Society states that “the combination of Autistic Disorder + extraordinary special abilities + remarkable memory is the autistic savant”. I think it is very important to note that savant skills are not limited to autistic persons, nor are all autistic persons savants.  Therefore, I do not think it is extreme to label Sherlock Holmes as only savant rather than autistic, since they’re separate entities. Last week I found an article in the Huffington Post that suggests viewing Sherlock Holmes as an “autistic savant” can harm society’s (already poor) understanding of autism:

“If people are lead to regard Holmes as the autistic archetype, then it minimizes the full range of behaviors that people with ASD exhibit. People with autism won’t be seen as needing understanding and support, instead they’ll be expected to be geniuses with a quirky forthrightness unencumbered by social inhibition, when the reality is far more complex.”

As I stated last week in my comment, Sherlock Holmes is well known for his quirks and sometimes peculiar behavior but there’s no evidence that the writer intended for this to be signs of autism (especially since the diagnosis didn’t exist when the original stories we have read were wrote). I think it is important to repeat my observation from last week.  If the general public begin to associate Sherlock Holmes’ behaviors with what they think is ASD, they won’t understand the entire spectrum.  Instead, they’ll associate quirks and seemingly odd behaviors with autism without understanding the full diagnosis.

In conclusion, after reading both short stories, I think it’s safe to say Sherlock Holmes is a savant.  However, concluding he’s on the autistic spectrum has the possibility to invalidate the actual diagnosis in real people with ASD.



One thought on “Schweda Analysis 3: Baskerville

  1. katieebuugg

    I couldn’t agree more with every aspect of this analysis. Last week I put most of my thinking and researching into exactly what you did this week. I was immediately curious to explore the characteristics of a autistic savant, seeing if I could ultimately solve my own mystery when it came to diagnosing Sherlock Holmes based on what I knew. I did have a hard time (like you) agreeing that Holmes was on the spectrum. The first red flag I had was that the term “autism” didn’t even exist at the time these stories were written. So how can we properly say that Holmes was on the spectrum if autism didn’t even exist? Another red flag I had was the fact that there wasn’t (for me anyway) enough clear textual evidence displaying that Holmes was indeed autistic. A part of me simply wants to think that the author was illustrating a character with outstanding abilities for a more dramatic, fictional affect rather than showing he had some kind of specific diagnosis that was making him that way. One more final red flag that stood out to me was something you wrote about as well, and that’s the fact that if we do “label” Sherlock Holmes as being on the spectrum, that could give readers and the general public false knowledge as to what autism really is. I agree with all of your points, especially the last one where you state that Holmes is a savant, but to say he is autistic is stretching it a tad.



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