Making Gifted Children with Autism Shine

Article excerpt

QUESTION: My son was diagnosed with high-functioning autism. He likes to draw diagrams and patterns I don't understand. I've read somewhere that there are children with autism that have higher IQ than geniuses as well as high-functioning autistic children who are considered gifted because of their unusual talents. I also know about Temple Grandin, the American doctor of animal science who has autism. How would I know if my child with autism is gifted? Are there mechanisms that can determine this? Thank you. - Mommy Ashley

Parenting a child with giftedness and talents and children with autism is indeed a great challenge. Gifted children are highly passionate and often preoccupied. They appear stimulated and concentrated on subject areas, activities, behaviors, and objects, and have difficulties in social and poor cooperation skills.

Both children can exceptionally show these characteristics that can sometimes conceal one another. A child is then recognized as having only one, but the two can also co-exist. Yes, there are children who are intellectually exceptional, and at the same time, are also on the autism spectrum. This category is called children with twice-exceptionality or twice-exceptional learner/dual labeled learner.

Twice-exceptional learners are students who have the ability to think, reason, and problem-solve at very high levels but also have special education needs. These children are best served by teachers who recognize and build on their exceptional strengths while at the same time are flexible in areas where the students require accommodation and support. For example, teachers may modify assignments, offer flexible timelines, provide alternative learning experiences, and employ other strategies that are often used with students who have special needs. (www.fcps.edu/-p/column/TwiceExceptionalLearners.pdf).

In the Gifted Child Quarterly published by the National Association of Gifted Children, Neihart M. said there are studies showing seven characteristics that are common between children with Asperger Syndrome (AS) and gifted children. Verbal fluency or precocity as well as excellent memories are common to both children. Both may have a fascination with letters or numbers and enjoy memorizing factual information at an early age. Both may also demonstrate an absorbing interest in a specialized topic and may acquire vast amounts of factual information about it. They may annoy peers with their limitless talk about their interests. They may ask endless questions or give such lengthy and elaborately specific responses to questions. One gifted AS child was asked who Christopher Columbus was, and he responded with a dozen sentences detailing his genealogy.

Neihart also said that AS children are described as having quite a range of abilities, as gifted children. It was Asperger's observation that all children with the disorder seem to have "a special interest which enables them to achieve quite extraordinary levels of performance in a certain area." This interest is similar to the way in which gifted children are said to have "passions." While they may demonstrate extraordinary skill in selected areas, both AS children and gifted children may perform in the average range in other areas. Both the gifted and the AS child are described as experiencing uneven development, particularly when cognitive development is compared to social and affective development at a young age. …