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.