Teen credits musical talent to head injury

Last updated 15:44 29/11/2013
Lachlan Connors
CBS4

ACCIDENTAL GENIUS: Screenshot of Lachlan Connors.

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A Colorado teenager who suffered a head injury could be the latest to join an exclusive group of accidental geniuses.

Lachlan Connors wanted to be a professional lacrosse player, but a series of concussions quashed that dream and provided another, unexpected, outlet of talent: music.

Connors, 17, sustained several head injuries while playing football at intermediate, which resulted in epileptic seizures. Doctors did not know what was triggering the fits, and after weeks in hospital, Connors began to recover.

Banned from contact sports, he filled his time picking out chords and melodies on the piano. He found he could play effortlessly - not just the piano - but also the banjo, ukulele, accordion, mandolin and a host of other instruments.

His mother, Elsie Hamilton, said Connors showed no musical ability as a child, and had never learnt to read music.

Now, he can "pick up an instrument and within five minutes, he's playing it," she told ABC News.

While having a concussion unlock a hidden affinity might seem far-fetched, experts have said it is possible.

Dr Spyridon Papadopoulos told CBS4 it was as if Connors' concussions turned on a new part of his brain.

"The thought is just a theory - that this was a talent lying latent in his brain and somehow was uncovered by his brain rewiring after the injury."

Dr Michael DeGeorgia, director of the Centre for Neurocritical Care and a professor of neurology at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, told ABC News patients who have certain brain injuries, such as strokes, can sometimes develop sudden artistic ability during recovery.

One hypothesis regarding sudden artistic ability has to do with the frontal lobe, which normally helps control inhibition. DeGeorgia said that if that part of the brain was damaged, it could lead to a "disinhibition" that might result in the person discovering a new interest or talent.

Another similar case occurred in Washington state when a man became a mathematical genius after he was violently mugged.

Following his concussion, Jason Padgett developed an obsession with numbers, geometry, and fractals - complex mathematical diagrams.

Medical specialists call him an "acquired savant" - a person who in compensation for an injury has developed profound abilities.

It is estimated 30 people worldwide have Acquired Savant Syndrome.  

These people are otherwise ordinary until they suffer a brain trauma and suddenly develop almost-superhuman abilities - an exciting prospect that has scientists investigating whether such potential lies in all of us.

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