All-seeing eye

6th April 2001 at 01:00
(Photograph) - The city is sharply drawn, etched on the mind and eye. Who is the artist? What does the drawing signify?

Stephen Wiltshire is an autistic savant, one of the 10 per cent of autistic people who have exceptional skills in a particular area, such as art, music, or memory. Stephen produced this picture in just 90 minutes after a ride in the London Eye.

Dustin Hoffman's character in the film 'Rain Man', who can calculate card probabilities within seconds in the casinos of Las Vegas, i perhaps the best-known autistic savant. Scientists still dispute the brain mechanisms that produce such singular gifts. In 1978 Dr Bernard Rimland, whose autistic son Mark paints beautiful watercolours, coined the term 'autistic savant' to replace 'idiot savants', a French phrase meaning 'the ignorant skilful'. People with special needs are also often people with special talents: we can see Stephen Wiltshire's talent clearly. But what of those whose talents are buried deeper in their needs?

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