I recently wrote an article for Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism about the imposter syndrome I have been experiencing since my autism spectrum diagnosis. In the article I also explain how it has affected me since my art ability suddenly re-appeared several years ago.
In this post I’m going to go into the savant thing a little more because I think what most people picture when you say ‘savant’ is an individual with an intellectual disability being able to calculate hard math problems or count a pile of toothpicks on the floor in an instant. I don’t measure up when held to that stereotype so I’m going to discuss how it all came about for me.
It all began when my art abilities re-manifested 10 years after losing them thanks to the side effects of an SSRI medication I was on for anxiety. As I’ve detailed in previous blog posts I was very confused because, although I hadn’t practiced at all in that time, I was suddenly able to draw and paint incredibly detailed artworks and learn how to use different art mediums in a snap.
The story is kind of amusing, at least to me. A friend of mine kept insisting that I was a savant which I thought was patently absurd and I told them so. They kept insisting so I decided to find the most expertiest expert that ever experted on savant syndrome and straight up ask them if that’s what I had. I wanted them to say “no, it’s not savant syndrome” so I could tell my friend to shush once and for all.
I trawled the net and came across the website of Darold A Treffert. 50 years experience in studying savant syndrome – I figured he of all people would know for sure. I composed an email detailing my diagnosis, my history with art and the way it disappeared and came back transformed, and asked for his verdict.
Thanks for your message. To me your artwork is exceptional and stunning. The story behind it is also very interesting. Savant syndrome by definition is a rare but remarkable condition in which persons with some underlying developmental disability such as autism or asperger’s has some extraordinary ability accompanying the disability and superimposed on that underlying disability. With a formal diagnosis of asperger’s, and with your exceptional artwork, you would meet the definition of savant syndrome.
…Of equal interest is the ‘sudden’ return (literally overnight) since in my work I describe some ‘sudden savants or sudden geniuses’ where an abrupt epiphany occurs bringing forth musical, math or art skills.
I was equal parts mystified at this new information about myself and aggrieved that I didn’t get to tell my friend to shush after all. It’s been a very difficult thing to mull over because I truly don’t consider myself anything of worth or in any way above average. I guess a lifetime of screwing up and failing at things will do that to someone.
I wanted very much to talk about it with people because that helps me process things mentally and I enjoy discussing all the facets of my place on the spectrum because it turned into an obsessive interest from diagnosis. I discovered, however, that most people either measured me up to the ‘idiot savant’ stereotype and dismissed me as making things up or thought I was being arrogant and above myself.
I don’t think my savant ability means I am better than everyone else at art – there are tons of incredible artists out there who I look up to. All it really means to me is that I can pick up my art materials and do decent things without a bunch of practice and that it exists alongside my inability to do a bunch of other things that most would find easy.
Before I was able to give it a name, it fueled my imposter syndrome because I didn’t have to put in all the effort that others do. I felt like it wasn’t really mine and that I couldn’t feel any sense of accomplishment in what I was doing as I hadn’t paid my dues. With help from my psychologist I’ve been able to overcome a good portion of this feeling and I’ve discovered along the way that it’s great to have an interesting story about myself to fill in the blanks. Previously when people asked me about my art, my only script was “I just… do it” along with an awkward shuffle and the intense desire to disappear into the ground.
Since contacting Darold, I have been put in touch with Strokes of Genius, Inc who act as agents for select artists on the spectrum. They have since signed me and with their help my work will now be exhibited and sold in the USA!