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Possibly Gifted with Autism/Asperger's Syndrome

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: My eldest daughter, now 10 has got in to the PEAC programme at school and scored 99% in the IQ testing. Her younger sister now 6 has never been quote "mainstream". She is an introvert, is obsessive about order, colours etc, she has a few great friends and plays well but is never "Miss. Sociable", she has a poor concentration span an always says she is bored at school.

When told to do a task she often starts but does not follow through. She loves the computer and puzzles and can play happily in her own world for ages. The teachers say that she is very bright but struggle to get her to focus when necessary. She can get very upset and shows huge emotion when hurt, we have always called her our "onion" as she has so many layers. She is also more sensitive than her siblings to loud noise, taste and smell. I just want her to be happy and to do the best for her. Should i have her IQ tested or just let the teachers continue with their behaviour sticker charts???

A: From your description, I would suspect a condition in the Autism Spectrum Disorder but you would need a proper diagnosis to rule that out or determine the condition. It is also possible that she may be gifted just by looking at her sister as it is found that when one child in the family is identified as gifted, the chances are great that other members of the family are gifted (siblings are usually within 5-10 points of measured ability). Furthermore, her teachers agreed that she is very bright.

Having said that, the symptoms of being in the Autism Spectrum is rather evident, possibly placing her in the category of being twice exceptional. By definition, individuals with Asperger's will also have a normal or above normal IQ. In spite of this, however, they nearly always have an understandably difficult time with regular classroom routines and social interactions.

There are some similarities between being gifted and Asperger's but some distinct differences are also apparent. The main characteristics of an Asperger's child is a lack of social or emotional reciprocity is while gifted children most often show a tremendous concern for others. They may not always know how to express it appropriately, but the concern is at least evident. There is also an abnormal preoccupation/interest in something either in intensity or focus. This intense fascination may come and go, but will also dominate the child's free time and conversation. Children with Asperger's may also show an uneven profile of abilities with remarkable long-term memory, exceptional concentration (only when engaged in subject of deep interest), and an original method of problem solving. However, they may also show motor clumsiness, and a lack of motivation and attention for activities that would normally engage age-peers. Social withdrawal, teasing by peers, and problems relating to others in an “age-appropriate” manner are other markers for Asperger's Syndrome. Of course, someone knowledgeable about giftedness could see these differences much more easily and readily than those who are not familiar. Regular teachers are usually not trained to determine either of the conditions.

It is best that you get her diagnosed for this and an IQ test would also be advisable to gauge her strengths and weaknesses in terms of ability. Please do this as soon as possible as any delay or allowing teachers to continue with their behaviour sticker charts would only hold her back further and not deal with the underlying concern. She probably needs an individualised educational programme to cater for her learning needs and I believe that she would flourish with proper intervention.

Readings that may be of help:

Gifted Children with Asperger's Syndrome

Wishing you all the best.


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