Doctor Gul Dolen postulates on a potential relationship between savantism and hyper-plasticity.
It would be speculation to say that hyper-plasticity could account for savant-like characteristics in autism, but certainly when we speak about mental retardation we are relying on I.Q. testing, which really has been developed to determine who is normal. I.Q. tests are not very good at parsing out what’s different about people who are in the sort of abnormal end of the spectrum. So, when we say that somebody has mental retardation, it may be that they are actually very good at some things and not so good at other things and that it’s not just one unified entity I.Q.. In fact it seems unlikely that it’s one unified entity, and that’s why I think a lot of people are so interested in savantism, because it really suggests that intelligence is a multi-factorial trait. There are multiple components to it, and being really, really good at one might hamper your ability to be good at something else.
I think the idea with savants is that they are very good at being able to remember specific facts and not so good at being able to see the big picture if you will. That may be because they are drawing too strong of a connection, their plasticity is too strong for these details and that prevents them from being able to make broader connections across brain regions. But this is just speculation, so I can’t say for sure that’s what’s going on, but it’s an intriguing possibility.