A few days ago, the case of Adeniran Abdulgafar, an SS2 student of Atagba Community Grammar School went viral because of his brilliance with calculations. Even multiplication of numbers that many people will need calculators to do, he answers off-hand.
Adeniran, despite his brilliance with numbers, however, has a health challenge that is standing in the way of his education. Walking on the road, he might just collapse for no reason, and become unconscious of his surroundings and what is happening around him for the next few minutes. Also, sometimes he feels sleepy but finds himself unable to sleep.
Teachers in his school speak to his brilliance and health challenges in a 4.33 minutes online video. His mathematics teacher, Mrs Risikat Victoria Ogunbowale, said she had seen him several times solving mathematics questions by writing in the sand with his fingers.
Another female teacher in his school, in her testimonial, said he is always seen going around alone because of his health challenges.
Mr Nurudeen Muraina, in the short video clip, claimed that Adeniran is an orphan who stays with Mama Elewe, his grandmother. The grandmother takes care of him with help from the community. However, meeting his health and educational needs is a big problem for Adeniran, who is fondly referred to as Professor because of his brilliance with figures.
There are suggestions that the mathematical genius has a medical condition called idiot savant. A person with this condition, a mental disability or learning difficulties but is extremely gifted in a particular area, such as the performing of feats or memory or calculation.
It is also a term used for a person who is extremely unworldly but displays natural wisdom and insight.
According to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, savant syndrome or autistic savant is caused by neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder and brain injury. It is a rare condition that affects around one in a million people.
Approximately half of the savants are autistic; the other half often have some form of central nervous system injury or disease. It is estimated that up to 10 percent of those with autism have some form of savant abilities. Thus, not all savants are autistic, and not all people with autism are savants. Also, there is no sex predilection in savant syndrome.
However, Dr Haleem Abdulrahman, a consultant psychiatrist at the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, said diot sa vant is a derogatory term to describe a person who has a mental disability but who is very good at doing a particular thing, for example memorizing, describing images, drawing or doing rapid calculation. Usually, only one exceptional skill is present. The term idiot savant is out of use.
The term idiot savant (French for “learned idiot”) was first used to describe the condition in 1887 by John Langdon Down, who is known for his description of Down’s syndrome. The term idiot savant was later described as a misnomer because not all reported cases fit the definition of idiot, originally used for a person with a very severe intellectual disability.
Dr Abdulrahman added: “Some children with autism do not talk well, interact well with others or do poorly academically but have an exceptional skill in a particular area, like in drawing and doing a rapid calculation, which is much more than that in the population. If the area of strength is focused on they tend to excel. Adeniran certainly is excelling in his area of strength as seen in the video.”
However, Dr Abdulrahman said the SS2 student in the 4.33 minutes skit looks more like a genius than someone with autistic savant, given that features of autism such as problems with language development, communication using the right words, poor eye contact and poor social communication skills were absent.
“When we make an evaluation, we ask a lot of questions. The details from the video are not enough to make a definitive diagnosis but he just looks like a young man who has a very sharp memory; he is a genius at numbers and had some challenges.
“What the skit showed like falling unconscious and not remembering anything minutes afterwards looks like a neurological condition. That does not fit into autism or savant syndrome. But it certainly needs a further evaluation to be sure what it is.”
What is the difference between a genius and a savant? Geniuses are usually people with very high intelligence. A savant is usually someone who has extraordinary mental abilities in a particular area. The mental ability tends to be related to the right side of the brain. Those who are rated geniuses are usually capable of living independently. A savant may not be able to do so.
So, in a way, a genius savant might be someone who can tackle complex mathematical problems with ease. A good example of a genius savant is Daniel Tammet of England. Tammet was said to be able to do lightning-fast mathematical calculations in his head.
Not every savant has other developmental issues, but most do. Most people think of an autistic person when they think of a genius savant. They think of a person who does not interact normally with others, and who has obsessive-compulsive behaviours that make the person difficult to live with.
In another reaction, a neurologist at the UCH, Ibadan, Professor Mayowa Owolabi, stated that Adeniran may have a seizure disorder or cataplexy. It could also be a case of narcolepsy, he said.
Cataplexy is a sudden loss of muscle tone while a person is awake leading to weakness and a loss of voluntary muscle control. It is often triggered by sudden, strong emotions such as laughter, fear, anger, stress, or excitement.
Narcolepsy is a chronic sleep disorder that causes overwhelming daytime sleepiness. Its symptoms may include fatigue, muscle weakness and loss of muscle control. Narcolepsy may occur with or without cataplexy.
Medical sciences say some people may develop narcolepsy during childhood and adolescence, but it is uncertain whether a person can be born with it. Narcolepsy is a rare, long-term sleep disorder that causes excessive daytime sleepiness and fragmented sleep. This condition affects the brain’s sleep-wake control.
But in the case of Adeniran, Professor Owolabi added, “Whether the problem occurs due to an injury or he was born with his health challenges can only be known after his case is properly investigated at the hospital. So, merely labelling him as having ‘idiot savant’ is wrong unless the proper assessment is first done by a neurologist. But certainly, his condition is treatable in Nigeria.”
Medical science indicates that the best treatment available for Savant syndrome is occupational and life skills therapy, to help the person live as independently as possible. Treatment for Adeniran should start with support to ensure the orphan gets appropriate assessment and medical attention so that the condition does not disrupt his education and wellness.