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Giftedness or Asperger's Syndrome (AS)

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: I have a niece who has just turned 3 this last Dec. She was very quiet as a baby, and language development was slow, not really speaking until about the age of 2. When faced with others including peers she would stare straight at you as if you were some kind of nut almost without any facial movement. Now she does communicate very well with a very large vocabulary. She is able to spell and write out her own name as well as other words such as cat, pig, dog, etc.

She would rather read her story books or do her "homework" instead of playing with her toys. She can talk up a storm now and speaks as if she is eleven or older she is sociable with her peers (takes ballet classes) but is shy acting. She is very clingy to her mother and father. She cries very easily at things and cannot be calmed down easily sometimes causing herself to throw up usually for no reason at all. When becoming upset she tells her mother "you have to calm me down mom, calm me down." and at other times she pushes her away telling her to don't touch me. It almost seems as if she is having a nervous breakdown.

She is a very "odd" child even in her parent's words. She seems overly sensitive but is extremely intelligent. She stops doing what she is doing to watch conversation of adults and listens very intently. I wonder if there might be a child disorder that she may have I have started to research Asperger's Disorder. My sister is very concerned and considering home school. Please help if possible. Thank You.

A: Though I may not be an expert on Asperger's Syndrome, I may be able to suggest a few things here. From your description, it does resemble the Asperger's syndrome, but then again, it may just be profound giftedness. A child with Asperger's Syndrome may still talk to people, but will avoid eye contact as they talk. From what I understand, children with Asperger's Disorder have trouble with social interaction.

It has been documented that children with Asperger's Syndrome are sometimes describes as little professors. "Children with AS may show advanced abilities for their age in language, reading, mathematics, spatial skills, or music, sometimes into the 'gifted' range" (From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia). These children are highly verbal as with your niece. They may also have obsessive interests in certain areas with exceptional memories. Their IQ is often above average and they are hypersensitive to sensory stimuli and experience social isolation. Some of these may be similar to your description.

At the same time, some of these characteristics are demonstrated by gifted children as well. On the issue of shyness, for some gifted children, it takes some time to warm up to people or new situations and they certainly should not be forced to participate when they are not ready. In reality, this may have to do with perfectionism as they need to know everything before they act or participate. Often, this is mistaken for shyness. In fact, they may just be the very cautious gifted children.

However, upon detailed examination, the main difference between gifted children and children with Asperger's Syndrome is motivation for such behaviours. For instance, both gifted children and children with Asperger's Syndrome may be highly verbal; but gifted child can think rather abstractly but children with Asperger's Syndrome are very literal and have a difficult time with abstract thought. As opposed to memorizing facts and impressing adults with the power of memory (as with children with Asperger's Disorder), gifted children are able to understand and grasp the concepts behind the words.

The best thing for you to do now is to advise you sister to see a professional who is able to diagnose if indeed your niece has any disability. You may also want to contact gifted associations in your state (I assume the USA), by going to the following website:

For information on Asperger's Disorder, you may want to refer this website:

Featured Resource


Misdiagnosis And Dual Diagnoses Of Gifted Children And Adults: ADHD, Bipolar, OCD, Asperger's, Depression, And Other Disorders
James T. Webb Ph.D, Edward R. Amend Psy.D, Nadia E. Webb Psy.D

Our brightest, most creative children and adults are often being misdiagnosed with behavioral and emotional disorders such as ADHD, Oppositional-Defiant Disorder, Bipolar, OCD, or Asperger's. Many receive unneeded medication and inappropriate counseling as a result.

  • Written for parents and professionals

  • Characteristics of gifted children and adults

  • Diagnoses most commonly given to gifted children and adults

  • Traits of diagnoses incorrectly given to gifted children and adults

  • Guidelines to avoid mislabeling gifted children

  • Parent-child relationship problems

  • Issues for gifted adults

  • Advice for selecting a counselor or health care professional

Featured Resource


Gifted Children

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