Six-year-old Nadia’s ballpoint drawings of horses and other animals were viewed with a mixture of marvel and disbelief by a team of child development and researchers at Nottingham University in 1974 in despite of the fact that she could barely combine two words, and was extremely withdrawn and prone to screaming fits, she had an extraordinary ability to draw.
Psychiatrists noted that she was lethargic and exhibited obsessive behavior. All this changed when she started to draw. Suddenly she would become animated. Holding her pen like an adult, and with her head close to the paper, she drew swiftly and displayed in advanced sense of perspective, depth and shadow. She would get inspiration from existing pictures but often arranged the subject in a new position. This showed that she could form a three-dimensional picture in her head even when shown only a two-dimensional drawing.
Nadia entered a school for autistic children at the age of seven. Slowly she learned how to speak and write and began to interact with other children, but as this happened her drawing skill disappear. Cases such as hers have convinced some neurologist that autistic savant’s must trade off their genius when they are integrated into society. Their extraordinary talents are transformed into the more everyday skill of language.
But the case of another autistic child, Stephen Wiltshire, suggest otherwise. Stephen is able to produce detailed architectural drawings with remarkable speed. His acute memory enables him to execute an accurate drawing after just one viewing. In 1987, at the age of 12, he was in the words of an eminent architect and artist, Sir Hugh Casson, “possible the best child artist in Britain.”
Like Nadia, Stephen has also developed some language skills and is doing well at a special school. But Stephen’s progress has not stifled his extraordinary drawing ability, in fact his genius and social skills appear to progress together. He now hopes to become an architect. A trust has been set up to help him train, funded in part by the sale of Stephen’s own drawings.