Distinguishing Giftedness from Aspergers; will the DSM-5 help?


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There’s a fine line between giftedness and Aspergers. This thought-provoking and carefully considered article, explains to a certain extent how closely related the two can be (or more precisely, can seem to be). There are people – including professionals – who hold to the position that to be gifted is to have Aspergers; but they tend not to believe the inverse, that having Aspergers is the same as being gifted.

Clearly the claim that Aspergers and giftedness are the same in some regard, can be a confused and distorting view. If one insists on a relationship between them, surely it makes sense to think of them as potentially “co-morbid:” That sometimes people who have Aspergers are gifted, and sometimes they’re not. Similarly, sometimes people who are gifted have Aspergers, and sometimes they don’t. How tightly related the two “conditions” are, might reflect confused and imprecise diagnostic practices, rather than a “true” relationship between them.

The difference matters. We need to know whether a child is struggling to relate to others and make their way in the world, due to functioning at a much higher level than their peers, or due to a neurological condition which makes these tasks fundamentally more difficult and challenging. One of the reasons this matters so much, is because of how you then address the problems: Do you respond to their difficulties by actively extending their education and increasing interactions with those of much higher intellect than their peers; or do you respond to their challenges by giving them remedial assistance and addressing their anxieties and behaviours with therapies and maybe even drugs. (Or, indeed, do all of the above, since the child is gifted and has Aspergers.)

Will the changes to Aspergers placement in the DSM-5 (due to come into effect in May 2013), make the distinction between giftedness and Aspergers, better or worse?

Having looked over the differences, my opinion is it will make the distinction much clearer. Indeed, those who are gifted and as a consequence of their giftedness were diagnosed as having Aspergers, would appear to be likely to drop off the autism spectrum under the DSM-5. And those who have problems that are not caused by giftedness, appear likely to slip quite easily into the new Autism Spectrum Disorder category. Allow me to explain how I’ve reached that view.

Here is the current (DSM-IV) criteria for Aspergers. If you read the article I linked to at the start of my post, you’ll see how it would be quite easy for a gifted child to fall into Aspergers so-defined. In particular, the observed social impairments under “A” could be a consequence of being gifted. And the behaviour under “B” – particularly the intense focused interests under (1) – would be easily met by many (most?) gifted children too. Ticking the rest of the boxes in the list is easily done, especially since being gifted can – and often does – isolate a child socially. Voila, you have Aspergers.

So how does this change for DSM-5?

DSM-5 removes Aspergers from the DSM altogether, but specifically folds Aspergers into the newly defined Autism Spectrum Disorder (Aspergers was already considered as being on the autism spectrum, the change just makes that even more explicit). It will be harder for a gifted child to be mistaken for a child with Aspergers, considering they now need to exhibit persistent deficits in social interaction and social communication across all three areas under “A”. But of particular note, it’s no longer enough to have intense interests (like under B (1) that I mentioned above, now represented by B (3)). Rather, the child must meet two of the criteria under B, ie, something more than just intense interest in an area. It’s arguable too that the requirement under D that the symptoms limit and impair everyday functioning, will be harder to show for a gifted child than the previous DSM-IV requirement that it significantly impairs social “or other important areas” of functioning.

So it seems to me, that the proposed changes to the DSM will help separate the “merely” gifted, from those with a neurological impairment. Hopefully leading to a clarification of relevant treatments and responses in general to the child. (I have focused on the child rather than the adult through-out this post, since there are consequences for a child’s education and the way their self-image is formed, in a way that is usually going to be much more impactful and severe than for an adult.) These changes do not mean someone could not have Autism Spectrum Disorder (for example, they were previously diagnosed as having Aspergers) and be gifted at the same time. It still seems most correct to think of these two conditions as sometimes occurring together: There is nothing inherent in autism that means you aren’t highly intelligent, or inherent in giftedness that means you can’t have autism.

In summary then, there is clearly some modern confusion about where to draw the line between Aspergers and giftedness. The drawing of that line does have serious consequences, particularly for treatments / therapies and education. The proposed changes to the DSM – that abolish Aspergers and fold it into a new criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder – would seem to clarify that distinction between giftedness and Aspergers. In turn, I would be hopeful that the resultant clarity will also mean more accurate and helpful responses to the challenges faced by these remarkable children.

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58 Responses to Distinguishing Giftedness from Aspergers; will the DSM-5 help?

  1. JJ says:

    “The difference matters. We need to know whether a child is struggling to relate to others and make their way in the world, due to functioning at a much higher level than their peers, or due to a neurological condition which makes these tasks fundamentally more difficult and challenging.”
    Why not try both and see what works for the individual?

    There is no scientific definition for “gifted,” nor is there even a consistent one. Therefore it’s impossible to say, with any grain of precision, that a gifted person is not also a neurologically impaired person. What causes someone to be gifted without being neurologically different in some way? Who’s to say whether a neurological difference causes an impairment? Impairment is relative to context, so it’s possible (likely, even) to change over time and place. Where does that leave us in drawing the line between gifted and an ASD?

    • Why not try both you ask? Because children – especially vulnerable autistic ones – are not guinea pigs. And taking the wrong approach with autistic children can actually make them worse. Plus time is a factor; early intervention can make a profound difference. Oh and, also, there are not unlimited resources, teachers and time to try whatever takes one’s fancy.

      That’s “why not try both.”

      You don’t need a scientific definition for giftedness in order to comprehend and appreciate these issues. But if you would like to attempt such a thing, it’s usually said to be the top 10% of a population, or people with IQs over 120. Those would be base-lines; frequently the cut-offs are above that. We don’t have a “scientific definition” for autism either, if you want to take that route. We have a list of criteria that changes every few years; does that count as a “scientific definition”? In the same way, we can have just as meaningful criteria for giftedness. That is not the stumbling block you think it is.

      Your equivocation over neurological impairment and giftedness is unhelpful and largely irrelevant. The question and point here, in that regard, is: “Is giftedness the same thing as Aspergers?” It is a different question entirely as to what else might cause giftedness, which you’ve tried to use as a reason to confound giftedness together with Aspergers.

      • JJ says:

        I meant that you could try both along the journey of finding what works and what does not. That’s hardly making the person a guinea pig; that’s finding a good approach. You’d rather label first and not try to find what works outside of approaches “appropriate” to that label?

        “In the same way, we can have just as meaningful criteria for giftedness. That is not the stumbling block you think it is.”
        I’ll agree that we “can” have meaningful criteria, but we currently do not. Or, at least, we cannot all agree on that criteria. Right now, it varies wildly by state and institution. Hence some of the confusion when we take up the “global” discussion of “giftedness.”

        I’d suggest that this also speaks to why you think I am equivocating neurological impairment with “giftedness” (I am not). I am suggesting that there may be neurological differences in *some* who are gifted and that those differences are similar to the neurological differences of someone with an ASD. Those differences may or may not cause a significant impairment. That’s going to depend on the individual and his/her ability to cope and adapt, their environment, and their age.

        Now, you might say that I’m arguing theory here, and that it has no bearing on an individual’s experiences if they are able to successfully “be” in the world at the time they are labeled “gifted.” I’d agree if it weren’t for the fact that an individual can fall in and out of being significantly impaired, (and, by extension, diagnosable with an ASD), over the course of their life. They could do just fine in high school but nearly fail out of college. They could do fine in the academic world but completely crash and burn when they hit the workplace.

      • “You’d rather label first and not try to find what works outside of approaches “appropriate” to that label?”

        No. The point of a label is to accurately identify what approaches will work considering what’s going on with the child. The label is functional, it is not some separate and unrelated consideration.

        The worldwide differing definitions for giftedness do not invalidate this discussion, because what we are talking about here are those gifted children who show the same characteristics as would match the current diagnostic criteria for Aspergers. It doesn’t matter how you define the exact criteria for giftedness, only that these highly intelligent children often look like they have Aspergers when some simply do not have Aspergers. That is the point. And the worldwide differing approach to identifying and labeling giftedness is quite similar to the worldwide differences in identifying and labeling autism; just because such differences exist doesn’t mean we can’t meaningfully discuss autism nor giftedness. If you like, you can simply substitute the words “remarkably intelligent and/or uniquely high functioning, compared to their peers and the general population” every time I used the word “gifted”; gifted is just short-hand, don’t get too caught up in the word.

        (The word “intelligent” is hotly debated too, that doesn’t mean we can’t talk about intelligence. I frequently write about not getting too caught up in the penumbra of words (which you appear to be doing), chuck the word “penumbra” in the search engine for my blog and have a read if you don’t know what I mean.)

        I do appreciate you coming back and expanding on (and clarifying) your points. Thanks for your comments.

  2. MJ says:

    Not to be too harsh here, but the entire premise that gifted and Aspergers are closely related is very badly flawed.

    The word “gifted” implies that a person has intellectual gifts that are outside of the normal range. It says absolutely nothing about their ability to interact with other people, their ability to understand other people, or that they will have fixations, rigidities, or restricted behaviors.

    Gifted people have the exact same distribution in personality types and social skills as the rest of the population. Some will be highly skilled in communication and social skills while others will invariably fall on the spectrum. But there is nothing inherent in higher intelligence that means that they will have trouble interacting with other people or that they will fixate on things.

    I have had the good fortune of knowing a large number of “gifted” individuals. I actually spent my first year of college living in a dorm full of young adults who were all “gifted”.

    The only thing that I have ever seen that ties all of these people together is their above average intelligence. But other than that, they have beeen just like everyone else – some were social, some were anti-social, some had the ability to really focus, some couldn’t pay attention to save their lives, some were short, some were tall, some had dark hair, some were blond, I could go on but I think you get the point.

    • JJ says:

      “But there is nothing inherent in higher intelligence that means that they will have trouble interacting with other people or that they will fixate on things.” – MJ

      Yes, exactly. The problem is the cited article’s case study. The article is titled, “Autistic or Just Brilliant?” (note the “or” in the title). At the end of the case study, the author writes, “The psychologist understood he [the 17-year old] was gifted. He could easily have been diagnosed with Asperger’s.” If he easily would have met the criteria for an ASD, does that mean he did not have Asperger Syndrome? No. Not acknowledging that this child had impairments doesn’t mean they don’t exist.The implication is that the psychologist simply didn’t want to label him as such, possibly because he didn’t think that such a label would be helpful. This can be damaging, though. Not recognizing that a person has disabilities can lead to a mismatch between expectation and performance, which leads to self-esteem problems.

      So why did the author of the cited article pick a “twice exceptional” child for her case study? There are (as MJ has said) plenty of intelligent people that do not have social impairments. I suspect that the problem may be with different definitions of “giftedness” out there. Not everyone defines “giftedness” solely by intelligence level or IQ. That’s only one criterion. Just check out Wikipedia’s definition to see that there is no consensus about how an individual is classified as intellectually gifted: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intellectual_giftedness

      While not part of the definition of intellectual giftedness, the article also points traits of many people who are considered to be “gifted”:

      “Many gifted individuals experience various types of heightened awareness and may seem overly sensitive. These sensitivities may be to physical senses such as sight, sound, smell, movement and touch….These various kinds of sensitivities often mean that the more gifted an individual is, the more input and awareness they experience, leading to the contradiction of them needing more time to process than others who are not gifted.”
      – From the “Characteristics of Giftedness” section

      This is the part of “giftedness” that shares a common denominator with ASDs, even though such sensitivities are not required to be “gifted.” While not called out in the DSM, sensitivities as described here are extremely common on the spectrum. The “intense world” theory of autism suggests that these sensitivities are the front-and-center cause of autistic behavior. So, if “intense world” theory is to be believed, the lines get grey really quickly. If ASDs are a neurological condition but are diagnosed by autistic behavior, where does that leave people who quite possibly have a similar neurological condition but can mask the traits?

      • “This is the part of “giftedness” that shares a common denominator with ASDs, even though such sensitivities are not required to be “gifted.” While not called out in the DSM, sensitivities as described here are extremely common on the spectrum.”

        The new DSM-5 does specifically refer to sensitivities by the way, see criteria (B) (4): http://www.dsm5.org/ProposedRevision/Pages/proposedrevision.aspx?rid=94

        And, the sensitivities are not the part of giftedness that share a common denominator with ASD, as the original article points out, it’s just one of many. There are a range of cross-overs, including fixated interests and social isolation from peers. It is those many “common denominators” that frequently lead to the equivocation between giftedness and Aspergers.

    • MJ, I agree with you, and I can see nothing you have said that goes against anything in my own post nor in the original article that lead to me writing this post. Both I and the author of the other article would like to see higher awareness of the distinction between giftedness and Aspergers. It is – as I said – distorting to think of the two as closely related. Yet many people – including some professionals – do strongly hold (and act on) this view. In my post I’ve gone through showing how this happens considering the current criteria for Aspergers, and how the criteria will change for the DSM-5 in a way that will clarify the difference. Again, the original article also talks (but more generally) about the similarities. Taking note of similarities does not imply the similarities are because they are the exact same thing, that’s why I said it makes sense to think of giftedness and Aspergers as sometimes co-morbid (for lack of a better word) rather than related.

    • Lindsay says:

      This is the best reply I’ve seen. It covers everything in the spectrum of giftedness. Though I’ve been diagnosed with Asperger’s, I often wonder if I am just “quirky” as a result of some of my “gifts” (which I put in quotes, because I believe EVERYONE is gifted in one way or another…the ability to love deeply, for example, is a gift, but generally someone with that quality is not ever labeled, “gifted.” ) Yes, I have far above average intelligence, but I am also super sensitive to smells, tastes, noises. Perhaps that is not so much neurologically based as it is an enhanced ability to perceive, in which case, just another “gift” is it not? Lots of good things written within this blog. I know that I am definitely more confused than ever regarding the “definite” diagnosis of my “condition” Furthermore, it pushes me to the only answer that makes all of these things operate in any way that I can truly grasp, and that is a purely Zen perspective that it “is what it is” and we can only “do what we can do.” That does not, however, make me feel the least bit passive, nor does it motivate me to stop making adjustments I or others see as necessary for me to interact with the world around me in an increasingly effective way.

    • Vivgafish says:

      You may have been around a lot of bright people but I don’t think you are getting that the HG and PG group really is different… Not just “above average intelligence”. My 12 yr old has a tested IQ of 148….in the 99.9th percentile….and it very clearly comes with other neurological baggage….not “just like anyone else”. Myself., I was simply more like the kids in your dorm…a very bright “above average” person who had some intensity but no other issues. These kids are just MORE different. They do NOT have “the same distribution in personality types as anyone else”…. Unless you have data that none of the research in this area has.

      • Sandy says:

        Exactly! People have to understand that the PG aren’t just “really smart.” They are a category in and of themselves!

  3. Lee says:

    The word “gifted” implies that a person has intellectual gifts that are outside of the normal range. – MJ

    I am the mother of a child who has been formally assessed as Gifted. I have no special training in the area other than research and information from professionals that he has seen. To me the above statement sounds more like the general public’s misconception that being Gifted just means you are very smart and has no behavioral of personality implications. My understanding is that saying for example that someone is gifted in the area of piano playing is entirely different from someone who is assessed as ‘Gifted’. My son had to tick a lot more boxes than just being really smart to be deemed Gifted and my understanding is that you can be really smart or exceptional in a particular area without being ‘Gifted’. For a child to truly fit the ‘label’ Gifted they need to tick a certain number of boxes regarding personality and social interaction.

    Is my understanding wrong? Because if not I can’t understand how you can agree with what MJ is saying.

    • I think the problem is that you’re shifted MJ’s response, and my own “agreement” out of context; I was agreeing with his point that giftedness and Aspergers are not “closely related”; that they are separate “conditions” (if you will). The point of my post being that those differences will be easier to distinguish when the DSM-5 comes in (if it comes in in its current proposed form); when Aspergers is folded into ASD, and the criteria is adjusted.

    • MJ says:

      Take a look at the assessments that were used to label your child as gifted and what they are designed to test If memory serves, in an educational setting the gifted label is primarily driven by IQ tests or subsections of IQ test along with some sort of psych eval.

      I guess the label could also be used for a child who is an extremely talented in some area such as music and not in intellectual gifts but I don’t think the gifted label is normally used in those cases. People may say that they are a gifted musician but that really isn’t the same.

      But, who knows, maybe I’m wrong and things are different today. My knowledge and experience in this area is from decades ago, so it is entirely possible that things have changed since then.

      • Lee says:

        You are right. In an educational setting there is a misconception that being Gifted is all about the IQ. This unfortunately is the reason that the education system generally fails miserably in dealing with these children who essentially have special needs. If you read the link that you posted below, in particular the information under ‘characteristics of giftedness’ it has a reasonable explanation of the challenges that Gifted children face. And getting back to your question, of course much of the testing of my son was to do with IQ but without the accompanying personality traits he would have been very smart but not Gifted. Gifted children generally function at a higher level. They are highly emotional, intense, sensitive. Maybe I’m getting off track here but the misconception and oversimplifying of Giftness is extremely frustrating! Of course the word itself doesn’t help. It is highly misleading so no wonder it is such a confusing topic.

  4. omalone1 says:

    Reblogged this on nomasons and commented:
    although this is not comprehensive, it was difficult to find any wordpress sites exploring this issue so I chose this one. Apart from James Webb’s “Misdiagnosis of the Gifted” this is really all I can find (although I would urge you to read Donna Y Ford and Joy Davis.) If readers are not making the connection, think about the book “Kill them Before They Grow” No, Think about the SUBTITLE. *ding*

  5. Perhaps there isn’t a large difference and giftedness, as commonly recognised, is a kind of autism the same way Aspergers is. Some fresh results: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160289612000761

    • I don’t think anyone’s claiming a “large difference” so much as that the difference is unclear under the current criteria for Aspergers (and that there is at least, an important difference). As I said in my post though, this difference would be clarified under the proposed DSM-5.

    • M.J. says:

      Being a child prodigy isn’t exactly the same thing as being a gifted child. There is definitely overlap but not all prodigies are “gifted” and not all gifted children are prodigies (assuming “gifted” means intellectually gifted, i.e. high IQ). A prodigy’s abilities seem more like the splinter skills that are seen in autism.

      And, specifically to the article you cited, the AQ is a terrible measure of autism. Even if you score above the cut off score of 32, you still only have a 1 in 10 chance of having any form of autism. If you are well below that threshold then the AQ can’t tell you anything about the chances of having autism. The AQ certainly isn’t a general measure of traits of autism (although it does keep getting used as that).

      So this statement from the abstract – “and the child prodigies received elevated AQ scores with respect to attention to detail, a trait associated with autism” – is close to meaningless. You can’t take a couple of questions from a screening test and say that getting a elevated score on them means you have a “trait” of autism. By that measure almost every single person on the planet is going to have some “trait” of autism because almost everybody is going to get a score above zero on the AQ.

      And I don’t know what to make of this statement – “The prodigies’ family histories yielded an unlikely number of autistic relatives.” What exactly is an unlikely number and how much does it differ from the likely number?

      • That’s interesting. When I wrote “giftedness, as commonly recognised” I assumed we were all talking about the same thing. They say that IQ isn’t as important as working memory. That certainly fits my preconceptions, as I know lots of people with high IQ who are just ordinary people. Is it common to use “gifted” to describe people of high IQ without special abilities? Don’t we just say “smart”?

      • M.J. says:

        My definition is close to this one – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intellectual_giftedness . Having a IQ isn’t necessarily required but it is very common. In my personal experience, almost every person I have ever know with a “gifted” label has also had a high IQ.

        Another way to look at the issue is that a high IQ and the presence of “gifts” are just two sides of the same coin. The increased intellectual ability gives both the high IQ test score and abilities that appear as “gifts”. You can either have broad abilities which means that you’re IQ is going to come back high or you can have a few areas that you are gifted in in which case the “gift” appears as more of splinter skill. Or you can be broadly or narrowly gifted in an area that isn’t tested by standard IQ tests, such as music or art.

        Yet another way to look at it is that any sufficiently “smart” person is going to appear to be gifted to “typical” people simply even without specific “gifts” because of how their mind works. There is a saying that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic and that idea would hold true here as well. Any sufficiently smart person can appear to be “gifted” even without real “gifts” simply because a “typical” person can’t follow how their mind is working.

        To your point about people with high IQs being “ordinary people”, well, they are. Gifted people are just like everyone else and come in all shapes, sized, and personality types. Like every other trait, it isn’t what you can do, it is what you do with. You can have the most profoundly gifted person and they will do absolutely nothing with their gifts and then you can have the most profoundly ungifted person and they will do better than the most gifted person through hard work.

        I think it is important to remember that being gifted is just one small part of who a person is, it doesn’t (or shouldn’t) define them as a person.

        Going back to your initial point, the difference between a gifted person and/or a prodigy and autism is that the gift is innate to how their mind works. They don’t have to put any special effort into making their ability works, it just does.

        When you contrast that to some of the occasional abilities that some people with autism have, their “gifts” seem to come more from their “intense interest” in a subject rather than any innate ability. They seem to obsess about a subject until they acquire a mastery of it and continue to obsess about it long after they have acquired mastery. And most importantly, at least to me, people with autism are not necessarily free to walk away from their subject – their autism almost forces them to fixate on it.

        A gifted person is completely free to walk away from their “gifts” or to never use their abilities and they can be complete happy doing while doing so.

        None of this is to say that a person with autism can’t also be “gifted” and have the “gifts” that that implies. But, again in my opinion, the available evidence strongly suggests that people with autism are less frequently “gifted” than the general population.

      • “But, again in my opinion, the available evidence strongly suggests that people with autism are less frequently “gifted” than the general population.”

        I don’t think there is evidence for that, even using ‘gifted’ to mean high IQ rather than special abilities. Remember that IQ tests were used to prove that black people were less intelligent before we realised the tests were biased. In unbiased tests such as Raven’s Progressive Matrices autistic people show a typical range of results.

      • M.J. says:

        “I don’t think there is evidence for that, even using ‘gifted’ to mean high IQ rather than special abilities”

        If you want to redefine the word to mean something else then there is very little point in talking about it.

        “In unbiased tests such as Raven’s Progressive Matrices autistic people show a typical range of results.”

        Actually, that is not the case. Even in the most one sided research out there, it is only some people with autism who do better – not typical – on Raven’s, better being relative to their scores on other tests of IQ. But that only appears after you modify the standard Raven’s test by doing things like removing the time limit.

      • Remove the time limit for autistics, for blind people read the test out loud, etc. It’s quite crucial when you’re testing how well people process information that you ensure they have the information in the first place, otherwise you’re testing something else.

      • M.J. says:

        True, I a certainly agree with removing constraints on a regular IQ test.

        But the time limit is a critical part of how Raven’s measures intelligence. It determines intelligence not only but how many puzzles you can solve but also by how many you can do in a fixed amount of time. When you remove the time element you at least partially invalidate the result.

        If you gave an untimed Raven’s to a “typical” person you would likely see the same increase in IQ that you see for some people with autism.

        Just out of curiosity, have you ever seen first hand how an IQ test is administered to a child with autism?

  6. As someone who is both gifted and has Asperger’s syndrome, I think this line of thinking is a great mistake! Gifted students who are not on the autism spectrum are usually your most popular “student council” type kids. They lead the other students because they can easily see the social situations and take advantage of this to gain popularity. Just being smart does not make you isolated. Being unable to figure out the unwritten rules does.
    The child in this example is quite bright, but does not show the need for social acceptance that drives your more typical child. What it does show is the bias of the psychologist. There is a strong movement to put “autism back in the institutions” where only those who are profoundly disturbed are given help.
    I grew up gifted without the knowledge of Asperger’s. It was very obvious in the gifted programs I was in who had social problems and who did not. Those of us who had problems were given no help with them and basically asked “why can’t you be like the other gifted kids who are popular leaders?”
    Yes, giftedness does not equal Asperger’s syndrome, but giftedness with social isolation almost always does!

    John Mark McDonald

    • This comment actually lends support to the notion that “social communication disorder” (the new category suggested under the proposed DSM-5) may indeed be what is required to sort out the current misunderstandings about the “overlap” between Asperger’s and giftedness.

    • keith says:

      Maybe I misunderstood. You seemed to suggest that there wasn’t a genuine overlap between Aspergers and giftedness, and that the apparent overlap was “social communication disorder”.

      • Hi Keith, no that wasn’t my intended message, sorry if it came across that way. I was just trying to say that what was being described sounded like it might fit comfortably into the new social communication disorder, and so that might be a useful new and potentially accurate category of some of those currently diagnosed with Aspergers in the way the commenter was describing it. I think that’s part of the confusion here: some of what is currently described as Aspergers is going to fit into the description of autism, some might fall into the SCD category, and some might be more clearly recognised as “merely” gifted. The way it’s currently defined and applied, the line between giftedness and Aspergers can be confusing and unclear, that in no way means there aren’t many people who genuinely fit within both categories (and some who fit in one but not the other). I hope that clarifies what I was trying to assert.

    • Red says:

      Ummmm… Actually, some gifted children may be socially isolated due to bullying over being the “smart kid” or the “teacher’s pet”, peer jealousy, or frustration at being placed in a classroom setting with peers who do not share their intellectual abilities. In the teenage years, gifted children may show a lack of interest in conforming to social norms, rebel against educational institutions and social circles that go with them – especially if their experiences with such have been disappointing and frustrating – and strive to be more like adults because they considered their peers silly or immature. Not everyone wants to be popular. Some gifted kids view it as a shallow “pissing contest” (pardon my French) devoid of any kind of real meaning or fulfillment. In addition, gifted girls in particular may reject the pressure to seek the approval of others and dress in a sexualized way in order to be the “popular social leader” type. As for the idea of joining the student council, there are many gifted kids who would probably find it completely beneath their developmental level and see it as nothing more than a patronizing way to gain adult approval.

      Einstein was not anybody’s idea of a popular, student-council type leader and, as a matter fact, did not do very well in school as a child. Does that mean that he had Asperger’s?

      Hitler, on the other hand, was undoubtedly an extremely popular and charismatic fellow with decided leadership qualities. Does that mean that he was gifted?

      • Red says:

        Pardon some of the typos, but I’m dictating this into a tablet.

      • survivor says:

        I appreciate this input. It has been suggested that my daughter may have AS, but she is also intellectually gifted as we have know since she was very young and naturally introverted as well. We are struggling with helping her thrive socially. She loves to interact with others, but is not the slightest bit interested in fitting in with the norm. She completely accepts everyone as they are whether perfectly or grossly kept. The problem is that she believes no one should care about how she looks either. Her hygiene is acceptable, but not great. As a result, I think she gets more acne breakouts than would be necessary given more attention to her skin. She is absolutely beautiful- like model beautiful, but refuses to conform to the kind of dress, use of makeup or hairstyles as her would be peers. She is home schooled, but involved in many activities. Even though people don’t seem to dislike her at all, they just ignore her even when she really tries to be included. Her thoughtless “friends” like to make sure she knows everything that she is not being invited to. She is so lonely that she is willing to put up with cruel people just to have the opportunity to socialize- her words.

        This has been very difficult to navigate. She doesn’t have any of the behaviors that are considered socially unacceptable- things that turn people off. No one ever has anything to say about her other than she is very sweet other than the mild hygiene issue already mentioned and honestly, I see many kids with less than perfect hygiene.

        Adults absolutely love her- she is mature, dependable and very kind. At 17, she is a National Merit Scholarship qualifier and works 3 part-time jobs including private tutoring.

        You couldn’t ask for a better friend than this kid. I wish I had one like her. She is real, she is deep and loyal to a fault. She would do anything for someone she considered a friend and is extremely polite and considerate. Honestly, other than trying to get her to conform a bit to improve her social opportunities, she is like a dream kid and I have had many, many adults over the years ask how I made that happen (my daughter). Why then, the social rejection- really don’t get it.

        Just about the time I think that perhaps she does have AS, I find a bit like your post that sways me the other direction. When you truly are different intellectually, why would you find the social norms necessary when you could be spending your time doing something much more stimulating?

        • Red says:

          “Why then, the social rejection–really don’t get it.”
          If she’s uncommonly pretty and uncommonly smart, then the other girls are probably going to be threatened to death by her. Teen girls can be a viciously competitive lot. And if the “out girl” is comparatively guileless, it just ramps up the cruel behavior. “All of us like to see our friends get ahead…but not too far.” –Mark Twain

          I’m glad my thoughts may have made a difference in someone’s life. I really wasn’t expecting that. Your daughter sounds like the kind of friend I would have liked to have at her age.

    • Rue Alexander Lusk says:

      I appreciate your comment John. I am the mom of three sons who don’t seem to fit into any clear box. One has Tourette Syndrome, another with mild tic disorder with social problems, and one who is gifted?/Aspergers? It is hard, as a parent to see your child squeezed into a category that then determines how he is treated and educated . My concern with all three of my sons has always been their adaptation to the world and connections with people. I am learning so much through the discussions here. I especially appreciate seeing people posting opinions and not receiving defensive responses, this shows me that the subject is of more importance than egos. That is rare!

  7. Also, there is a scientific definition of giftedness, which is an IQ the is two standard deviations above the norm or more e.g. IQ of 130 or above. The only problem with this definition and it’s use by schools were certain socially connected mothers who said “My child must be in the gifted program, or I will make sure that there is NO gifted program.” Thus the definition for giftedness moved out of the scientific realm and into the local political realm. Schools cannot use the scientific definition without political problems thus the statement, “There us no usable definition of giftedness,”

    • That’s hardly the “only problem” though, is it; IQ tests are notoriously unreliable and difficult to give to certain children, so it’s not an accurate or even particularly useful measure of a child’s “giftedness,” I suggest.

    • Red says:

      In my experience, socially connected mothers aren’t the problem. The problem is that schools do not want to shell out the money. This goes for not only gifted and talented programs but also special ed programs for those with learning disabilities.

  8. Pamela says:

    My 9year old son struggles socially and has been diagnosed with ADHD. The psychologist is now looking closer at a possible Aspergers diagnosis. I am concerned with a possible misdiagnosis, My son is classed as “gifted” and scored around 150 on his IQ test. The school has never done anything about his “gifted” nature and don’t seem to understand how this impacts his behaviour. They are concerned about his bahaviour – high need for perfection and gets very upset/has meltdowns when he is not doing perfect – very fidgety, signs of anxiety, doesn’t take direction or correction well. When I explain that he is “gifted” and how this relates to his behaviour the school seems to dismiss the idea that there is a relation. I fully expect they’ve already decided he is autistic and will fill the paperwork out accordingly. This information has been very helpful and hopefully our psychologist will take this into account when reviewing his diagnosis. Based on the information provided here I am not convinced that he is autistic but rather gifted with ADHD.

    • Hi Pamela. You could also perhaps ask them to hold off their assessment until next year when the new diagnostic manual comes out? You could explain that you don’t want to get a diagnosis so soon to major changes in the definitions of autism conditions, and that you don’t think the delay will have a significant impact on his care in the meantime? Just an idea anyway, besides your own existing concerns it may indeed make sense to hold off on a borderline diagnosis at this time. Either way, I wish you and your son all the best, and I hope the professionals in your child’s life remember to listen to the person who knows the child best.

      • Pamela says:

        Just to update – after going thru the Autism diagnosis process for the past several months we met with the psychologist last week and he has determined my son is not Autistic. The next step is for the psychologist to meet with the teaching team and relay this non-diagnosis and explain his reasoning. We did take the changes being made to the DSM into consideration during this process.

        I am hoping that with Autism off the table the teachers will look outside their Autism toolbox for new strategies to assist my son. He has come a long way in terms of his social skills and continues to make progress in the area of competitiveness. We have him enrolled in tournament training in martial arts to work on his competitive nature and appropriate responses.

        All the dialogue here has been very interesting and helpful. Thanks.

    • Sandy says:

      Wow, Pamela, this sounds exactly like my 5 year old who just started Kindergarten and is seen as a “behavior problem” by his teacher. When I told her that he tested out as Gifted with a Verbal IQ in the 150s, I could tell that she didn’t even believe me!! I’m sure she thinks he is on the autism spectrum and doesn’t have a clue about the behavior issues that could be involved with a Gfted child. It’s a blessing and a curse and its a HUGE misconception that Gifted children are just “really smart!” It’s beyond that. They are a subset of children all of their own with their own specific characteristics. Ever hear of “Supersensitivities?” If not, google it. It describes my son to a Tee! I am just reading your letter now in Ocy of 2013. Can you give me an update on what has happened with your son? Is he in a public school system?? I’m thinking that the public school is completely inept when it comes to dealing with Gifted kids,

      • Pamela says:

        My son has now entered into Grade 5 and is in the process of transitioning back to his home school from an alternative school. He is in the separate (Catholic) system and while we have had some struggles with the school I do believe this is the best choice for our son. He is receiving some enrichment, not as much as I’d like but some is better than none. My son definitely has supersensitivities. One of the main reasons the school keeps going back to Autism is b/c they believe my son does not display enough empathy. This is extremely common with gifted children but the teachers don’t seem to have any understanding of what a gifted child looks like or rather the characteristics of a gifted child. I have had to educate them on this but I don’t believe they fully buy into his gifted nature. I’m often met with, “well he struggles to understand _____.” Really? Gifted doesn’t mean he knows everything, lol! It means he has the potential to learn at a quicker and more indepth rate compared to the average student. My son is doing well and we are very please with his progress. He will never fit into the cookie cutter ideal of a typical student and we are totally okay with that.

        You have a voice and in my experience I believe if my husband and I had not stood up to the teachers and voiced our beliefs to the psychologist (helped our psychologist is amazing) our son may have received an Autism diagnosis. If he was Autistic we would have accepted the diagnosis but in my heart of hearts I knew that he wasn’t. I’ve done tons of research on Autism, ADHD, and gifted children. I’ve gone back to University and taken several psychology classes and I’ve been working as an Autism Interventionist for the past 3 months. My son is not Autistic. Best of luck to you and your son! It can be a hard journey but your child is so worth it!

        • Sandy says:

          Wow, thank you for your reply. I’ve been a school psychologist for 20 years and, like you, I KNOW my son doesn’t have autism but, unfortunately, the vast majority of teachers have no idea about “supersensitivities” and go straight for an autism or ADHD diagnosis. We have a meeting this week to discuss his “behavior.” He just doesn’t fall in line like a little soldier and probably won’t and I don’t intend to beat him down. Rather, the teacher will have to come up with differentiated instruction to keep him focused in school. Glad to hear of someone else who has gone through this and is making it! I’m up at night, can’t sleep and I even get a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach when I pick him up at school and I know I’m going to hear (from HIM, by the way…he’s totally honest!) about how many time outs he’s gotten today. I’m pretty sure public school won’t be for him……….but hey, “dull kids make dull adults.” And who wants that?:)))). Good luck and thank you Pamela:).

  9. CY says:

    My son is 4Y3M. Last month He just took the WPPSI III test and scored 146 on FSIQ. He was never diagnosed as autistic per se but was marked as “at risk for Aspergers… To be retested at age5”. He has very mild social problems. His eye contact is situation dependent. He gives good eye contact when engaged with challenging activities, but not when doing small talk.
    My son has no emotional issues, no sensitivity issue. He is easy-going and seek friendship with adults. He has one good friend, a girl peer.
    At the moment, we have him 6 hrs ABA and 6 hour group therapies per week. These are for addressing the Asperger side.
    My question is now with DSM-V, he will definitely fall out thr ASD speatrm.
    Mr concern is how best to help my gifted child with weak social skikllls -whether go cancell all 6-hr ABA and/or thrapies which are all private.

    My educational psychologist suggest he should join more classes re eg teams sports. He is already to group classes in soccer, basketball, gym classes and trampoline.

    Do unthink it is ok to cancell all the therapies and ABA. And replace with team sports and plsydates from other NT children.

    • The specialists in your child’s life will know better than I ever could, but you have to go by your own instincts too. It sounds like your child has a lot of his plate for such a young man, between all those therapies if his issues are so mild, plus all those extracurricular activities. If it was my son, I would be wary about over-loading him and burning him out, but I am more familiar with autism than with pure giftedness (other than being considered a gifted child myself). There’s not much else I can say on the topic going on what you’ve said. I just wish you all the best!

  10. CftxP says:

    Thanks for this interesting analysis, it does seem strange to me why Asperger’s Syndrome and Giftedness would be correlated, though in my case, it may be so. And here’s my story about my own diagnosis and my life (sorry if it bores you):

    Fairly recently, around the end of October last year, I was diagnosed with PDD-NOS which became PDD or Asperger’s by the time I came back for weekly visits at December after some analysis by the team of psychologists who were working on my case. Though I did initially come for a check up on whether or not I had a learning disability, I didn’t realize that I would take an IQ test and actually, I only had 5 hours of sleep the night before since I’ve had these types of troubles because I didn’t have a reason to keep a sleep schedule not being in school for the time being (that part’s trivial sorry).

    So I took the test anyway, it was a Weschler test, and I was a bit surprised by the results since my full scale IQ put me at the 95th percentile (125 with a 120-129 confidence interval) and arguably, I could be considered mildly gifted but I know that I’m at least at the “Superior” Range of the test. Even more surprising were my subtest results, 133 estimate for my verbal IQ (99th percentile) and 110 estimate for my performance IQ (75th percentile). I was told that the discrepancy (23 points) between the two categories is normal for people who have Autism Spectrum Disorders though not necessarily classic Autism. And though I initially came for a diagnosis for a perceived learning disability, my psychological evaluation stated that I probably have ADHD symptoms caused by anxiety issues which were, in turn, due to the Autism Spectrum Disorder. I also found out that depression and related symptoms were also often exhibited in people with ASDs.

    But back to the IQ scores, I was mainly surprised about this since apparently, a higher verbal IQ meant that I learn better through auditory means rather than the kinesthetic means that I originally believed was right for me. This is also really surprising since I’ve always been told that I had a lot of talent in art, from teacher, to classmate, to a bunch of other people, so it’s a bit strange to me that my performance IQ, though above the normal average of 100, would be so low compared to my verbal IQ. On the flip side, I was never the most talkative person and possibly because of insecurities about my ideas and how they sounded like, I made sure of it. However, I’m also told that I would probably do well in creative writing since I apparently make good and thorough descriptions of events, which is why I never failed my AP English classes despite my inherent lack of interest in the subject (when I actually tried the last semester of my senior year I actually ended up getting almost an A in the class – too bad I didn’t take the AP exam for credit). But I guess what I’m trying to say is that despite wanting to pursue a career in art, I’ve suddenly been overcome by an aware insecurity while at the same time, my passion for social justice has only reinforced my longing to practice law, though even with that, my introverted personality seems not to “fit in” traditionally with the practice (but it does sound like a good idea for me to break that tradition and it isn’t actually unheard of). Now that I’m about to start school again, I don’t know if I’m just having the jitters or what, but I’m just putting myself down a bit, though this may be attributed to maladjustment partly by my sleeping pattern.

    Then pertaining to your post, I know that Asperger’s syndrome is basically a neurobiological disorder meaning, my brain’s just different from the norm. I think that our brains are wired primarily towards introversion (since social inhibition and awkwardness are often attributed to Autism Spectrum Disorders) while at the same time, we don’t actually view a lot of what society does as “important”. For example, I can’t handle drama of any kind and my strange sense of empathy means that I don’t eat meat, I don’t take drugs, and I don’t do a lot of other things and though it may be seen as “admirable”, I practice this lifestyle for other reasons. For example, most people who go vegetarian do it because they don’t want an animal murdered but I took it beyond that traditional reasoning, I stopped eating meat because I believe that animals have consciences, it costs more for society in the long run to eat meat, and plus, I’ve been gaining a lot of weight in unnecessary areas (though I gained 6 pounds since I began). Basically, without these things that we see as distractions: small talk, unnecessary social interaction (I often saw myself only talk to people about school unless I felt their presence in a more emotional level), and the like; we’re able to intensely focus on what we want to. Of course, the lack of social interaction and apathy towards many of society’s practices does cause depression and in some unfortunate circumstances, suicide.

    So no, I wouldn’t equate Asperger’s Syndrome to giftedness and agree with you wholeheartedly with the fact that IQ is flawed in many ways (the fact that I know this and still feel inadequate about my own does honestly surprise me) and that Asperger’s patients like me may end up being disenfranchised by the APA’s decision to take away the diagnosis, basically just categorize it as plain Autism on different levels than classic Autism. A lot of people on an Asperger’s Forum I joined seemed worried about the fact that Asperger’s would not be a valid diagnosis anymore according to the DSM 5 because their psychological issues and problems may not be taken as seriously if their diagnosis becomes the first degree of Autism despite having serious issues to begin with. There’s also the point that giftedness, though it may not even be intellectual to begin with, can be measured in different ways since I do believe, and many share this same conclusion, that what’s considered “giftedness” is truly uniqueness, though intellectual capacity is what we normally associate with the word if we aren’t discussing other factors like talents and skills. Though by this measure, there’s also the “savant” who apparently has a low capacity to do many things in life but extraordinary giftedness in a particular area or field and the “pseudo-savant” who has a high capacity to do things and think for themselves though through practice and dedication, achieves highly, and with both of these labels, the fact that one also has an Autistic Spectrum Disorder.

    Anyway, if you do come around to reading this, thanks for seeing what may just have been my life story (sorry – I seriously am sleepy but I had to take things out on you :/ ) and having the patience to read about my input. 🙂

    • Malu says:

      Thanks for sharing your story. I am a mother of a child who was diagnosed at the age of 8 with giftedness. The reason for the test was that at grade two it was suggested that he repeat the school year. We employed an Educational Psychologist over a period of six weeks during which time our son was put through a plethora of tests from IQ to visual conceptional to behavioural and many more. In total some 28 different testings. He presented with an IQ of 144 with highly superior non-verbal skills. He had a learning disability in rote learning. We were informed that he would not find a/any school environment easy and that the best approach was to take initiative and provide a stimulating environment at home as well as supplement any school curriculum he was in. We were also told that as he neared high school he could quite possibly drop out as statistics showed that ‘gifted’ children recorded this as ‘falling through the cracks’ due to their specific learning needs not being met. Gifted children we were informed were/are children who are normal kids that problem solve differently. They arrive at conclusions differently as they use their brains in different ways to the norm and it is these differences that are not accomodated in schools. If the learning disabilty is focused for example on rote learning, then things like times tables, spelling tests etc are approached differently by the gifted child. This is the case for our son. He needs to understand inately new information before he is able to build upon it. If this step is not done well, he lags behind.With constant assessement of his school situation and the teacher ability that he interracts with we have been able to supplement. I hope that you never cease to search for ways or avenues to help you improve how you learn and help you find your strengths and weaknesses. In the end I think each person is really their own best assessor if they are true to themselves. Good luck and thank you for your story.

    • Sandy says:

      Your IQ would have to be significantly higher to be considered Gifted, 130 is just “really smart”. When you get into the 150s, you are considered Gifted and those are the people who have a set of characteristics that are unique to them, such as “Supersensitivities” and asynchronous development. That is why they are often misdiagnosed as being on the spectrum or ADHD.

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  13. Kim says:

    Introversion and extroversion play a big role in personality types of all people, but those who are introverted and gifted have a more difficult time w/social settings. We live in an extroverted world where people think an introverted person needs to be fixed. Dabrowski’s overexcitabilities also play a role w/gifted individuals. One gifted person may be extroverted with few sensitivities, while another might be introverted having all sensitivities (and if they are perfectionists – they get more easily frustrated).
    Be careful not to misdiagnosis your child. Find an experienced psychologist who works with gifted children before letting a school or pediatrician label your child. Most gifted children are misdiagnosed with ADHD… Please don’t be in a hurry to get your child “fixed” with medication. I have two sons, both gifted with completely different personalities. My oldest son is now in second grade (gifted, introvert, perfectionist). This is his best year of school since preschool. He is on a 504 plan for giftedness and is doing well in a mainstream class. His teacher is calm, patient, caring and consistent. She UNDERSTANDS my son and he is now a successful student. My youngest son is in kindergarten. He has few sensitivities and is an extrovert so social settings are easier for him.

  14. Hello to everyone who has contributed to this post. It’s great to see both sides presented here and questions asked and counterpoints made.

    I am currently going through this at the moment with my 6yo boy. His assessment showed up a low FSIQ on the WPPSI-IV and the observations showed that he did not relate to his peers, inconsistent eye contact – they threw everything in to make sure he met the DSM-5 requirements for ASD and ADHD.

    I was shocked. I didn’t recognise the boy in the report. He had taught himself the alphabet at age 2 and makes of cars. He does complex equations e.g. 64/2×7= and he reads in 4 languages at age 6. He reads the directory of DC superheros and knows all their super powers and can look them up using the index. His sense of humour is mature (for a 6yo) and put him in a room of teenagers and he shines! He LOVES a crowd, a show-off and performer. But they honed in on the fact that he doesn’t have great social skills with his peers.

    Recently I went to get him assessed by the Centre for Talented You (CTY). It will be two weeks before he gets his results but the change in him since he connected with one of the kids in the playground. WOW. He leapt forward in personality and confidence.

    I feel that Autism & Oughtisms is correct in warning us about how we treat a child who presents with very similar symptoms. I am reminded of the quote by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe “If I accept you as you are, I will make you worse; however if I treat you as though you are what you are capable of becoming, I help you become that” or if you prefer more scientific input check out the countless studies on children in the classroom and non verbal communication. Children know and feel more than they can express and this can make all the difference.

    While the two are not mutually exclusive, I would venture that the litmus test is putting these children in with their intellectual peers and not their chronological peers. Smart people, in general, don’t do eye contact too well and don’t really do small talk to well. They subjects of interest and have very high expectations for themselves leading to what others may call ’emotional immaturity’ when those standards aren’t met. Trust you instincts as a parent and challenge and research what you feel isn’t right.

    I’ve found out a lot about myself while researching for my son and it turns out we share a lot of the same characteristics. I can tell you that the eye contact between us is great and I’ve noticed that my eye contact with others isn’t great. But I know what’s going on in my head when I don’t look at people and people don’t like it when I challenge them with intelligent questions. I have good reason to believe that my IQ is about 129-131. If that puts me in a 10% bracket, that would explain my lack of close friends that I can relate to, why I don’t really do small talk but I love performing. I used to be a DJ and I now have two radio shows but I think I make a poor dinner guest because that only thing I am interested in is personal development. I don’t care about current affairs, celebrity or soaps.

    It turns out that my niece is in the top 0.5% in the world according to Mensa and I have a daughter (5) coming up behind who is stunning quick and observant.

    I think I’d like to live in Germany… lol.

  15. Para 6 should read “They have specific subjects of interest and “

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