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Possibly Twice-Exceptional Learner

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: My daughter is 14 years old. At about nine months she contracted mono and I was advised to keep her home as much as possible. She was tested at 18 months and was said to be delayed because she lacked real world experience. Her language development was delayed. In pre school and kindergarten she just seemed confused and her teachers said there was something wrong but could not put their finger on it. She had no social inhibitions though and somehow we would find her always wandering off engaged in a conversation with an amused friend or party goer but still not making much sense to me.

By third grade, as a concerned mother, I insisted on having her tested though her grades were above average. After all of the testing, all of the teachers involved agreed there was something not quite right, but nothing to engage the level of an IEP. The most they could find was a sequencing issue and gave her some intervention therapy at school.

Fast forward to age 10 where she was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes and we moved a few times due to my husband's job. Her grades still remained at the A level but her social skills and communication became much worse. She was shy and did not give socially appropriate responses in conversations as my teacher-friend put it. She still talks in a conversation but it seems like she picks out parts of it that are not relevant and elaborates on those incongruent to the rest of the conversation. That has affected her ability to make friends easily.

She is in 9th grade and gets straight-A's in regular level classes but has scored low in the pre-SAT and ACT national tests. I'm guessing from reading different responses on your page that she may have a communication disorder. I really have no idea what tests she should have or how to get them. Also, to some degree she has a partial photographic memory because she can stare at worksheet from school for a few minutes and then reports back that she got an A on that test, when it seems that more study would be needed.

As far as testing goes, if she can memorize a certain set of facts, she does very well, but if she has to bring in analysis or any integration of other life assumptions or facts, she doesn't really understand or know how to solve that problem. She is usually a happy person and does get along well with others, though she is pretty naive at times.

My main concern is that she does not respond at an age appropriate level in conversations and she cannot assimilate abstract information in an educational or real life setting. I guess it might also be appropriate to mention that her older brother and sister were quite gifted and entered college with full ride scholarships having both graduated early with a sophomore level amount of college credits and received scores in the top 99th percentile of the national college entrance exams. My two younger children also exhibit giftedness separately in the areas art and science.

A: From your description, I am suspecting a problem within the autistic spectrum, possibly Asperger's Syndrome (AS). Asperger's Syndrome is a pervasive developmental disorder characterised by deficits in social communication and by repetitive patterns of behaviours, or interests. There is a possibility of your daughter being twice-exceptional learner – that means being gifted with a pervasive developmental disorder. Based on clinical observation and studies of gifted children and Asperger children suggest that distinctions between the two may be made by examining their pragmatic use of language, their insight and ability to take others' perspectives, the quality of their humour, their affective expression, and their response to disruptions of routine.

The information given is limited but if this is the case, try to note a few of the things I would be mentioning here to distinguish her gifts and possible AS. Firstly, as with gifted children, AS children can be highly verbal. However, AS children are pedantic, demonstrate mixtures of knowledge (thus impress adults) and personal accounts when they communicate. This is possibly due to the fact that they may not be aware of the purpose of the questions. They will go on and on mixing content, personal experiences and other illustrations. Secondly, AS children are more rigid with routines and have a hard time coping with change. Thirdly, individuals with AS may not be aware that their behaviour is out of the ordinary. They have difficulty understanding the perspectives of others and therefore face challenges in her social adjustment, as in the case of your daughter. As for photographic memory, gifted children in general have excellent memories. On the other hand, many children with Asperger's have an almost photographic memory. It has been assumed that this could possibly be because of a tendency of individuals with Asperger's to “think in pictures”.

The fourth distinguish factor is inattentiveness. While both gifted and AS children tend to appear distracted at times, disturbance for gifted children is from external stimuli; whereas it distraction that comes from within for AS children. Next is the quality of humour where gifted children with AS children tend to be creative with word play but as gifted children engage in socially reciprocal humour, gifted Asperger's typically do not understand humour that required social reciprocity.

Another possible distinguishing feature is inappropriate affect, which is almost always observed with AS children for example, flattened and restricted response. A final distinction with AS children is the lack of insight and awareness regarding the feelings, needs, and interests of other people.

The best thing to do now is to seek help from professionals on the concerns you may have. It is crucial that she get help for early intervention whatever the diagnoses may be. For an accurate diagnosis of AS in gifted children (as I suspect may be the case you're your daughter) requires the participation of an experienced, interdisciplinary team. Do start looking out for someone who may be able to help as soon as possible. Accurate diagnosis is important for educational assistance and this will increase chances appropriate services for children with any concerns to enable them to have maximum opportunity in realising their potential.

Hope that helps. My very best to you and your daughter.


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