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Possibly Gifted Child with Asperger's Syndrome

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: My child who is 13 years old and is in the 7th grade has the following issues at school:

1. Socialization since elementary school. He gets along well with younger or older children and adults. The neighbourhood kids also like him a lot, but my son cannot play sports.

2. Diagnosed with mild Asperger's and on the WISC-IV has an IQ of 130 with a slow processing speed, but receives no help from the school. He attends his classes without assistance and does not get lost. He comes out of school all anxious and shaking his hands and jumping up and down.

3. MAIN PROBLEM: He has difficulty putting his thoughts on paper, essays, etc. He can write, but holds his pencil in an awkward way and also utensils.

4. I have asked the school for help, he needs a 504, but they have done nothing. His language arts teacher complains about his lack of writing and he said that my son will be placed in a remedial 8th grade L.A. class next year. My son has a 97% vocabulary score and attends a literacy program where he is taught by a university professor who says that my son should be on the top of his class. He also has a math tutor who told me that he has no problem with math, but just gets confused with what formula to use and the tutor said that all children in 7th grade have the same problems.

What can we do to help him and what assistance does he need? My son gets frustrated when he gets a low grade and is trying to do his best. A lot of times it is lack of enthusiasm, but not all the time. Help!!!

A: I can understand your frustrations and it is hard to have a child who is doing well on his strengths, yet not getting the attention he deserves in the areas of weakness. As for socialisation, he appears to be fine as there is some level of mingling regardless of the age group. This would have happened since he was quite young. Due to inappropriate affect which is typical amongst children with Asperger's Syndrome, they may not socialise well within their peer group as they may be seen as different. It is perfectly fine not be able to play sports, there are other physical activities that may suit him and there are bound to be some children who would play with him so I wouldn't worry much here.

It is rather strange that the school is least helpful in his case, especially since he is doing well especially in Math. Did you try to speak to someone of authority at his school? An IQ score of 130 should give him admission to programmes for above average children. If this is not happening, you may want to query the school. More than anything else, I think the school is a problem. If there is a parent group, you may want to sought help in getting the school to pay some attention to your son. In the worst case, a better school may be a good option - one that would place him in a programme catered to his needs. Though, a child with his condition may have low tolerance for change.

It appears to me that the school is seeing him as a child with a learning disability rather than focussing on his strengths which are so obvious. Perhaps it would be helpful for you to get a letter from the professor to show to the school board. In reality, at times, parents and educators may attribute the difficulties gifted Asperger's Syndrome students have in school because of a poor match between the curriculum or pedagogy and the child's learning needs.

How has the diagnosis helped in the invention? Is there any intervention? Even though his condition is mild, proper training can be very helpful as these children manifest their frustrations. The social skills training that benefits AS children is different from the social skills training that benefits children with other kinds of learning problems, hence the necessity of an accurate diagnosis. Accurate diagnosis also increases the chance that students will receive appropriate services and have maximum opportunity to realise their potential.

There are three areas that Asperger's Syndrome children typically have problems in, that is; learning, socialising, and behaviours. Research recommends the following:

  • Interventions that focus on information, general support, and the management of specific problem behaviours. AS students can benefit by learning compensatory strategies, just as gifted students with learning disabilities do.

  • Taking into account the unique characteristics of an AS brain. People with AS are usually strong visual thinkers (thought are best in concrete, literal pictures) This can have several advantages, but it is a distinct disadvantage in a classroom where the expectation is that the student think verbally. Therefore, it has been recommended that frequent use of diagrammes, visualisation, and pictogrammes for teaching and managing behaviour should not be compromised with.

  • The use of parts-to-whole verbal instruction is the most appropriate approach because AS children tend to focus too much on details.

  • Teachers with strong intuitive abilities is more likely to have success teaching a gifted AS child than is the teacher who bases decisions on logical deductions because AS students are often extremely sensitive to the tone with which something is said. This may be the case in your son's school. At the same time, teachers must not become too angry or overly loving.

  • For sensory integration, extreme sensitivity to some kinds of sensory stimuli is common among children with AS. This hypersensitivity causes problems for the children in their adjustment to school (look up on sensory integration therapy).

  • As for social skills training, it can be improved with training.

  • Behaviour problems are also common and these kids may be either compulsive or hyperactive. They may be prone to tantrums or aggressive outbursts, and although sensitive to teasing, but they may consistently demonstrate provocative behaviours that invite teasing. It has been advised that when adults get into an argument with such a child, they should not attempt to reason for more than a minute.

  • Medication may help in some cases although in your son's case, since it is mild, it may not be required. Medications can significantly improve the quality of life of AS children when they exhibit compulsive or aggressive behaviours that interfere with school adjustment or family life. Medication may also be needed to alleviate symptoms of depression, thought disorder, or anxiety attacks.

I hope the above would shed some light but it would be best to see a therapist to suggest what is best for him. The school can just do so much and teachers may not be able to handle such kids. Most are only aware that there are special kids of two extremes but ones who have both extremes - giftedness and a developmental disorder; this is something most teachers are not prepared for.

All the best to you.


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