"The mind is like an iceberg, it floats with one-seventh of its bulk above water."

~Sigmund Freud~

Gothic text from pookatoo.com

Nadia appeared healthy at birth, but by the time she was 2, her parents knew something was amiss. She avoided eye contact and didn't respond when her mother smiled or cooed. She didn't even seem to recognize her mother. At 6 months she still had not spoken a word. She was unusually clumsy and spent hours in repetitive play, such as tearing paper into strips.

But at 31/2, she picked up a pen and began to draw—not scribble, draw. Without any training, she created from memory sketches of galloping horses that only a trained adult could equal. Unlike the way most people might draw a horse, beginning with its outline, Nadia began with random details. First a hoof, then the horse's mane, then its harness. Only later did she lay down firm lines connecting these floating features. And when she did connect them, they were always in the correct position relative to one another. Nadia is an autistic savant, a rare condition marked by severe mental and social deficits but also by a mysterious talent that appears spontaneously—usually before age 6.

Sometimes the ability of a savant is so striking, it eventually makes news. The most famous savant was a man called Joseph, the individual Dustin Hoffman drew upon for his character in the 1988 movie Rain Man. Joseph could immediately answer this question: "What number times what number gives 1,234,567,890?" His answer was "Nine times 137,174,210." Another savant could double 8,388,628 up to 24 times within several seconds, yielding the sum 140,737,488,355,328. A 6-year-old savant named Trevor listened to his older brother play the piano one day, then climbed onto the piano stool himself and played it better. A savant named Eric could find what he called the "sweet spot" in a room full of speakers playing music, the spot where sound waves from the different sources hit his ears at exactly the same time.

Most researchers have offered a simple explanation for these extraordinary gifts: compulsive learning. But Allan Snyder, a vision researcher and award-winning physicist who is director of the Center for the Mind at the University of Sydney and the Australian National University, has advanced a new explanation of such talents. "Each of us has the innate capacity for savantlike skills," says Snyder, "but that mental machinery is unconscious in most people."

Savants, he believes, can tap into the human mind's remarkable processing abilities. Even something as simple as seeing, he explains, requires phenomenally complex information processing. When a person looks at an object, for example, the brain immediately estimates an object's distance by calculating the subtle differences between the two images on each retina (computers programmed to do this require extreme memory and speed). During the process of face recognition, the brain analyzes countless details, such as the texture of skin and the shape of the eyes, jawbone, and lips. Most people are not aware of these calculations. In savants, says Snyder, the top layer of mental processing—conceptual thinking, making conclusions—is somehow stripped away. Without it, savants can access a startling capacity for recalling endless detail or for performing lightning-quick calculations. Snyder's theory has a radical conclusion of its own: He believes it may be possible someday to create technologies that will allow any nonautistic person to exploit these abilities.

The origins of autism are thought to lie in early brain development. During the first three years of life, the brain grows at a tremendous rate. In autistic children, neurons seem to connect haphazardly, causing widespread abnormalities, especially in the cerebellum, which integrates thinking and movement, and the limbic region, which integrates experience with specific emotions. Abnormalities in these regions seem to stunt interest in the environment and in social interaction. Autistic children have narrowed fields of attention and a poor ability to recognize faces. They are more likely to view a face, for example, as individual components rather than as a whole. Imaging studies have shown that when autistic children see a familiar face, their pattern of brain activation is different from that of normal children.

That narrowed focus may explain the autistic child's ability to concentrate endlessly on a single repetitive activity, such as rocking in a chair or watching clothes tumble in a dryer. Only one out of 10 autistic children show special skills.

In a 1999 paper, Snyder and his colleague John Mitchell challenged the compulsive-practice explanation for savant abilities, arguing that the same skills are biologically latent in all of us. "Everyone in the world was skeptical," says Vilayanur Ramachandran, director of the Center for Brain and Cognition at the University of California at San Diego. "Snyder deserves credit for making it clear that savant abilities might be extremely important for understanding aspects of human nature and creativity."

Drawings by normal 4-year-olds
When 4-year-old children draw a horse, they typically choose to establish its contour and familiar features such as head, eyes, legs, and tail. Allan Snyder believes that these kids draw on a concept of the horse to re-create it rather than recalling the precise physical details, as savants do.

A Drawing by a 3-year-old Savant
A 3-year-old child named Nadia became famous for her ability to sketch spectacularly detailed horses and riders from memory. Savants like Nadia show the ability to perform unusual feats of illustration or calculation when they are younger than 6. Snyder wants to figure out how they do it.

Snyder's office at the University of Sydney is in a Gothic building, complete with pointed towers and notched battlements. Inside, Nadia's drawings of horses adorn the walls; artwork by other savants hangs in nearby rooms.

Snyder's interest in autism evolved from his studies of light and vision. Trained as a physicist, he spent several years studying fiber optics and how light beams can guide their own path. At one time he was interested in studying the natural fiber optics in insects' eyes. The question that carried him from vision research to autism had to do with what happens after light hits the human retina: How are the incoming signals transformed into data that is ultimately processed as images in the brain? Snyder was fascinated by the processing power required to accomplish such a feat.

During a sabbatical to Cambridge in 1987, Snyder devoured Ramachandran's careful studies of perception and optical illusions. One showed how the brain derives an object's three-dimensional shape: Falling light creates a shadow pattern on the object, and by interpreting the shading, the brain grasps the object's shape. "You're not aware how your mind comes to those conclusions," says Snyder. "When you look at a ball, you don't know why you see it as a ball and not a circle. The reason is your brain is extracting the shape from the subtle shading around the ball's surface." Every brain possesses that innate ability, yet only artists can do it backward, using shading to portray volume.

"Then," says Snyder, speaking slowly for emphasis, "I asked the question that put me on a 10-year quest"—how can we bypass the mind's conceptual thinking and gain conscious access to the raw, uninterpreted information of our basic perceptions? Can we shed the assumptions built into our visual processing system?

A few years later, he read about Nadia and other savant artists in Oliver Sacks's The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales. As he sat in his Sydney apartment one afternoon with the book in hand, an idea surfaced. Perhaps someone like Nadia who lacked the ability to organize sensory input into concepts might provide a window into the fundamental features of perception.

Snyder's theory began with art, but he came to believe that all savant skills, whether in music, calculation, math, or spatial relationships, derive from a lightning-fast processor in the brain that divides things—time, space, or an object—into equal parts. Dividing time might allow a savant child to know the exact time when he's awakened, and it might help Eric find the sweet spot by allowing him to sense millisecond differences in the sounds hitting his right and left ears. Dividing space might allow Nadia to place a disembodied hoof and mane on a page precisely where they belong. It might also allow two savant twins to instantaneously count matches spilled on the floor (one said "111"; the other said "37, 37, 37"). Meanwhile, splitting numbers might allow math savants to factor 10-digit numbers or easily identify large prime numbers—which are impossible to split.

Compulsive practice might enhance these skills over time, but Snyder contends that practice alone cannot explain the phenomenon. As evidence, he cites rare cases of sudden-onset savantism. Orlando Serrell, for example, was hit on the head by a baseball at the age of 10. A few months later, he began recalling an endless barrage of license-plate numbers, song lyrics, and weather reports.

If someone can become an instant savant, Snyder thought, doesn't that suggest we all have the potential locked away in our brains? "Snyder's ideas sound very New Age. This is why people are skeptical," says Ramachandran. "But I have a more open mind than many of my colleagues simply because I've seen [sudden-onset cases] happen."

Bruce Miller, a neurologist at the University of California at San Francisco, has seen similar transformations in patients with frontotemporal dementia, a degenerative brain disease that strikes people in their fifties and sixties. Some of these patients, he says, spontaneously develop both interest and skill in art and music. Brain-imaging studies have shown that most patients with frontotemporal dementia who develop skills have abnormally low blood flow or low metabolic activity in their left temporal lobe. Because language abilities are concentrated in the left side of the brain, these people gradually lose the ability to speak, read, and write. They also lose face recognition. Meanwhile, the right side of the brain, which supports visual and spatial processing, is better preserved.

"They really do lose the linguistic meaning of things," says Miller, who believes Snyder's ideas about latent abilities complement his own observations about frontotemporal dementia. "There's a loss of higher-order processing that goes on in the anterior temporal lobe." In particular, frontotemporal dementia damages the ventral stream, a brain region that is associated with naming objects. Patients with damage in this area can't name what they're looking at, but they can often paint it beautifully. Miller has also seen physiological similarities in the brains of autistic savants and patients with frontotemporal dementia. When he performed brain-imaging studies on an autistic savant artist who started drawing horses at 18 months, he saw abnormalities similar to those of artists with frontotemporal dementia: decreased blood flow and slowed neuronal firing in the left temporal lobe.

One blustery, rainy morning I drove to Mansfield, a small farm town 180 miles northeast of Melbourne. I was heading to a day clinic for autistic adults, where I hoped to meet a savant. The three-hour drive pitched and rolled through hills, occasionally cutting through dense eucalyptus forests punctuated with yellow koala-crossing signs. From time to time, I saw large, white-crested parrots; in one spot, a flock of a thousand or more in flight wheeled about like a galaxy.

I finally spotted my destination: Acorn Outdoor Ornaments. Within this one-story house, autistic adults learn how to live independently. They also create inexpensive lawn decorations, like the cement dwarf I see on the roof.

Joan Curtis, a physician who runs Acorn and a related follow-up program, explained that while true savants are rare, many people with autism have significant talents. Nurturing their gifts, she said, helps draw them into social interaction. Guy was one of the participants I met at Acorn. Although he was uncomfortable shaking my hand, all things electronic fascinated him, and he questioned me intently about my tape recorder.

Every horizontal surface in Guy's room was covered with his creations. One was an electric fan with a metal alligator mouth on the front that opened and closed as it rotated from side to side. On another fan a metal fisherman raised and lowered his pole with each revolution. And then I saw the sheep. Viewed from the left, it was covered in wool. Viewed from the right, it was a skeleton, which I learned Guy had assembled without any help. Guy didn't say much about himself. He cannot read nor do arithmetic, but he has built an electric dog that barks, pants, wags its tail, and urinates.

During my visit, another Acorn participant, Tim, blew into the room like a surprise guest on The Tonight Show. He was in a hurry to leave again, but asked me my birthday—July 15, 1970.

"Born on a Wednesday, eh?" he responded nonchalantly—and correctly.

"How did you do that?" I asked.

"I did it well," he replied.

"But how?" I asked.

"Very well," he replied, with obvious pleasure. Then he was out the door and gone.

How do calendar savants do it? Several years ago Timothy Rickard, a cognitive psychologist at the University of California at San Diego, evaluated a 40-year-old man with a mental age of 5 who could assign a day of the week to a date with 70 percent accuracy. Because the man was blind from birth, he couldn't study calendars or even imagine calendars. He couldn't do simple arithmetic either, so he couldn't use a mathematical algorithm. But he could only do dates falling within his lifetime, which suggests that he used memory.

He could, however, do some arithmetic, such as answer this question: If today is Wednesday, what day is two days from now? Rickard suspects that memorizing 2,000 dates and using such arithmetic would allow 70 percent accuracy. "That doesn't reduce it to a trivial skill, but it's not inconceivable that someone could acquire this performance with a lot of effort," he says. It's especially plausible given the single-minded drive with which autistics pursue interests.

Yet Tim, the savant at Acorn, can calculate dates as far back as 1900, as well as into the future. And there are reports of twins who could calculate dates 40,000 years in the past or future. Still, practice may be part of it. Robyn Young, an autism researcher at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, says some calendar savants study perpetual calendars several days a week (there are only 14 different calendar configurations; perpetual calendars cross-reference them to years).

But even if savants practice, they may still tap into that universal ability Snyder has proposed. Here it helps to consider art savants. That Nadia began drawings with minor features rather than overall outlines suggests that she tended to perceive individual details more prominently than she did the whole—or the concept—of what she was drawing. Other savant artists draw the same way.

Autistic children differ from nonautistic children in another way. Normal kids find it frustrating to copy a picture containing a visual illusion, such as M. C. Escher's drawing in which water flows uphill. Autistic children don't. That fits with Snyder's idea that they're recording what they see without interpretation and reproducing it with ease in their own drawings.

Even accomplished artists sometimes employ strategies to shake up their preconceptions about what they're seeing. Guy Diehl is not a savant, but he is known for his series of crystal-clear still lifes of stacked books, drafting implements, and fruit. When Diehl finds that he's hit a sticking point on a painting, for example, he may actually view it in a mirror or upside down. "It reveals things you otherwise wouldn't see, because you're seeing it differently," he says. "You're almost seeing it for the first time again."

Diehl showed me how art students use this technique to learn to draw. He put a pair of scissors on a table and told me to draw the negative space around the scissors, not the scissors themselves. The result: I felt I was drawing individual lines, not an object, and my drawing wasn't half bad, either.

Drawing exercises are one way of coaxing conceptual machinery to take five, but Snyder is pursuing a more direct method. He has suggested that a technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation, which uses magnetic fields to disrupt neuronal firing, could knock out a normal person's conceptual brain machinery, temporarily rendering him savantlike.

Young and her colleague Michael Ridding of the University of Adelaide tried it. Using transcranial magnetic stimulation on 17 volunteers, they inhibited neural activity in the frontotemporal area. This language and concept-supporting brain region is affected in patients with frontotemporal dementia and in the art savant whom Miller studied. In this altered state, the volunteers performed savantlike tasks—horse drawing, calendar calculating, and multiplying.

Five of the 17 volunteers improved—not to savant levels, but no one expected that, because savants practice. Furthermore, transcranial magnetic stimulation isn't a precise tool for targeting brain regions. But the five volunteers who improved were those in whom separate neurological assessments indicated that the frontotemporal area was successfully targeted. "Obviously I don't think the idea is so outlandish anymore," says Young. "I think it is a plausible hypothesis. It always was, but I didn't expect we'd actually find the things we did."

Snyder himself is experimenting with grander ideas. "We want to enhance conceptual abilities," he says, "and on the other hand remove them and enhance objectivity." He imagines a combination of training and hardware that might, for example, help an engineer get past a sticking point on a design project by offering a fresh angle on the problem. One method would involve learning to monitor one's own brain waves. By watching one's own brain waves during drawing exercises, Snyder imagines it may be possible to learn to control them in a way that shuts down their concept-making machinery—even the left temporal lobe itself.

Even if further research never fully reveals why savants have extraordinary skills, we may at least learn from their potential. Snyder is optimistic. "I envisage the day," he says, "when the way to get out of a [mental rut] is you pick up this thing—those of us with jobs that demand a certain type of creativity—and you stimulate your brain. I'm very serious about this."



Sometimes the most amazing abilities of the human brain are revealed exactly when things go wrong with it. Take, for example, savants - people who have mental abilities that could only be characterized as superhuman (like having photographic memory, playing music perfectly after hearing it just once, or doing complex mathematical calculations in one's head) but otherwise severely disabled in every day cognitive functions and social interaction.

Does the human brain have latent savant-like abilities? Does our higher cognitive functions somehow block these abilities, and why? And can we have savant-like abilities without the accompanying autism and/or developmental disabilities? One intriguing studyby Dr. Allan Snyder of the Centre for the Mind suggested that temporarily impairing the left fronto-temporal lobe in healthy subjects by low-frequency magnetic pulses could result in savant-like mental abilities (see, for example: article in New York Times "Savant for a Day")

Most savants are born with their abilities (and unfortunately, their developmental disorders), but not all: severe brain injuries can, in very rare instances, cause savant-like abilities to surface (see, for example: The Case of the "Sudden" Savant). One noted savant (Daniel Tammet, see below) is a highly functioning autistic savant who can perform amazing mental feats but does not have significant developmental disabilities.

There are a few savants in the world (called "prodigious savants") whose abilities are so exceptional that they would've been classified as phenomenal with or without cognitive disabilities.


Famous savants

Kim Peek, the Real Rain Man

Even though you've never heard of Kim Peek, chances are you've heard the movie Rain Man. Kim was the inspiration for the character played by Dustin Hoffman in the movie.

Kim Peek was born with severe brain damage. His childhood doctor told Kim's father to put him in an institution and forget about the boy. Kim's severe developmental disabilities, according to the doctor, would not let him walk let alone learn. Kim's father disregarded the doctor's advice.

Till this day, Kim struggles with ordinary motor skills and has difficulty walking. He is severely disabled, cannot button his shirt and tests well below average on a general IQ test.

But what Kim can do is astounding: he has read some 12,000 books and remembers everything about them. "Kimputer," as he is lovingly known to many, reads two pages at once - his left eye reads the left page, and his right eye reads the right page. It takes him about 3 seconds to read through two pages - and he remember everything on 'em. Kim can recall facts and trivia from 15 subject areas from history to geography to sports. Tell him a date, and Kim can tell you what day of the week it is. He also remembers every music he has ever heard.

Since the movie Rain Man came out, Kim and his father have been traveling across the country for appearances. The interaction turns out to be beneficial for him, as he becomes less shy and more confident.


 Leslie Lemke

Leslie Lemke didn't have a great start in life. He was born with severe birth defects that required doctors to remove his eyes. His own mother gave him up for adoption, and a nurse named May Lemke (who at the time was 52 and was raising 5 children of her own) adopted him when he was six months old.

As a young child, Leslie had to be force-fed to teach him how to swallow. He could not stand until he was 12. At 15, Leslie finally learned how to walk (May had to strap his fragile body to hers to teach him, step by step, how to walk).

At 16 years of age, Leslie Lemke bloomed. In the middle of one night, May woke up to find Leslie playing Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1. Leslie, who has no classical music training, was playing the piece flawlessly after hearing it just once earlier on the television.

From then on, Leslie began playing all styles of music from ragtime to classical. Like the Tchaikovsky piece, he only has to hear the music once in order to play it again perfectly. He became famous after being portrayed in national television shows. Before his health started to deteriorate, Leslie gave many concerts around the world. 

 Alonzo Clemons

As a toddler, Alonzo suffered a head injury in an accident that changed his life. He can't feed himself or tie his shoelaces, but he can sculpt.

And boy, can he sculpt: after seeing only a fleeting image of an animal on a TV screen, Alonzo could sculpt a perfect 3D figure of it, correct in each and every detail right down to the muscle fibers. 

Gottfried Mind: Cat's Raphael

Gottfried Mind was one of the earliest savants in history. In 1776, the eight-year-old Gottfried was placed in an art academy, where his teachers noted that he was "very weak, incapable of hard work, full of talent for drawing, a strange creature, full of artist-caprices, along with a certain roguishness."

One day, Gottfried's mentor, a painter named Sigmund Hendenberger, was drawing a cat when Gottfried exclaimed "That is no cat!" The teacher asked whether he could do better and sent the child to a corner to draw. The cat that Gottfried drew was so life like that since then he became known as the Cat's Raphael:

In the course of his narrow, indoors life, he had worked himself into an almost paternal relation with domestic animals, especially with cats. While he sat painting, a cat might generally be seen sitting on his back or on his shoulder; many times he kept, for hours, the most awkward postures, that he might not disturb it. Frequently there was a second cat sitting by him on the table, watching how the work went on; sometimes a kitten or two lay in his lap under the table. Frogs (in bottle) floated beside his easel; and with all these creatures he kept up a most playful, loving style of conversation; though, often enough, any human beings about him, or such even as came to see him, were growled or grunted at in no social fashion

Gilles Tréhin

Gilles Tréhin lives part-time in the city of Urville, in an island off the Côte d'Azur, between Cannes and St. Tropez. Never heard of it? That's because Urville exists only in his mind.

Since he was 5, Gilles taught himself to draw three dimensional objects. By 12, he started building a city he called "Urville" (after Dumont d'Urville, a French scientific base in the Antarctic). At first he used LEGO, but shortly thereafter, he realized that he could expand his imaginary city much easier with drawings.

Urville isn't just an idle idea - Gilles has 250 detailed drawings, complete "history" of the founding the the city, and has even published a book detailing it. 

 Jedediah Buxton

Jedediah Buxton, born in Derbyshire, England, in 1707, couldn't write. By all accounts, he has no knowledge of science or history or anything else for that matter except for numbers. Jedediah, as it turned out, was one of the world's earliest mental calculators and savants.

Everything was numbers to Jedediah - in fact, he associated everything he saw or experienced with numbers. He measured the area of the village he was born in simply by walking around it. When he saw a dance, his whole attention was to count the number of steps of the dancers. At a play, Jedediah was consumed with counting the number of words uttered by the actors.

The mental feat of Jedediah Buxton was tested by the Royal Society in 1754 - his mathematical brain was able to calculate numbers up to 39 figures. 

 Orlando Serrell

Orlando Serrell wasn't born autistic - indeed, his savant skills only came about after a brain injury. In 1979, then ten-year-old Orlando was playing baseball when the ball struck him hard on the left side of his head. He fell to the ground but eventually got up to continue playing.

For a while, Orlando had headaches. When they went away, he realized he had new abilities: he could perform complex calendar calculations and remember the weather every day from the day of the accident.What makes Orlando Serrell so unique is that he may indeed hold the key that unlocks the genius in us all. Orlando Serrell did not possess any special skills until he was struck in the head by a baseball when he was 10. And his extraordinary gifts seem to be his only side effect. Could this mean once a key hemisphere in the brain is stimulated, we can all attain the level of genius Orlando posses and beyond? Only time and research will tell. Until then we will do well to keep our eyes on Orlando and learn what we can from his experience. 

 Stephen Wiltshire, the Human Camera

As a young child, Stephen Wiltshire was a mute - he was diagnosed as autistic and was sent to a school for special needs children. There, he discovered a passion for drawing - first of animals, then London buses, then buildings and the city's landmarks. Throughout his childhood, Stephen communicated through his drawings. Slowly, aided by his teachers, he learned to speak by the age of nine (his first word was "paper.")

Stephen has a particularly striking talent: he can draw an accurate and detailed landscape of a city after seeing it just once! He drew a 10 meter (~33 ft) long panorama of Tokyo following a short helicopter ride. 

 Ellen Boudreaux

Like Leslie Lemke, Ellen Boudreaux is a blind autistic savant with exceptional musical abilities. She can play music perfectly after hearing it just once, and has a such a huge repertoire of songs in her head that a newspaper reporter once tried to "stump Ellen" by requesting that she played some obscure songs - and failed. Ellen knew them all.

Ellen has two other savant skills that are unusual. First, despite her blindness, she is able to walk around without ever running into things. As she walks, Ellen makes little chirping sounds that seems to act like a human sonar

Second, Ellen has an extremely precise digital clock ticking in her mind. To help overcome her fear of the telephone, Ellen's mom coaxed her to listen to the automatic time recording (the "time lady") when she was 8. From then on, Ellen knows the exact hour and minute, any time of the day without ever having seen a clock nor have the concept of the passing of time explained to her. 

 Daniel Tammet: Brainman

At first glance, you won't be able to tell that Daniel Tammet is anything but normal. Daniel, 29, is a highly functioning autistic savant with exceptional mathematical and language abilities.

Daniel first became famous when he recited from memory Pi to 22,514 decimal places (on 3/14, the International Pi Day, of course) to raise funds for the National Society for Epilepsy.

Numbers, according to Daniel, are special to him. He has a rare form of synesthesia and sees each integers up to 10,000 as having their own unique shapes, color, texture and feel. He can "see" the result of a math calculation, and he can "sense" whether a number is prime. Daniel has since drawn what pi looks like: a rolling landscape full of different shapes and colors.

Daniel speaks 11 languages, one of which is Icelandic. In 2007, Channel Five documentary challenged him to learn the language in a week. Seven days later, Daniel was successfully interviewed on Icelandic television (in Icelandic, of course!).

When he was four years old, Daniel had bouts of epilepsy that, along with his autism, seemed to have brought about his savant abilities. Though he appears normal, Daniel contends that he actually had to will himself to learn how to talk to and behave around people:

As he describes in his newly published memoir, "Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant" (Free Press), he has willed himself to learn what to do. Offer a visitor a drink; look her in the eye; don’t stand in someone else’s space. These are all conscious decisions.

Recently, some friends warned him that in his eagerness to make eye contact, he tended to stare too intently. "It’s like being on a tightrope," he said. "If you try too hard, you’ll come off. But you have to try."

There is a big difference between Daniel Tammet and all the other prodigious savants in the world: Daniel can tell you how he does it and that makes him invaluable to scientists trying to understand the savant syndrome:Professor Allan Snyder, from the Centre for the Mind at the Australian National University in Canberra, explains why Tammet is of particular, and international, scientific interest. "Savants can't usually tell us how they do what they do," says Snyder. "It just comes to them. Daniel can. He describes what he sees in his head. That's why he's exciting. He could be the Rosetta Stone."

Tony DeBlois

Tony DeBlois was born blind on January 22, 1974. He began to play piano at the age of two. At first DeBlois studied in the Perkins School for the Blindbut in 1989 was awarded a summer scholarship at Berklee College of Musicin Boston, Massachusetts. Later he was admitted as a full-time student and graduated magna cum laudein 1996.

DeBlois specializes in jazz but can play just about any other type of music as well. A savant, he plays 20 musical instruments and has held concerts worldwide but also has his own band, Goodnuf. He can play about 8,000 pieces from memory.




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