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August 2011



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Last updated 14:29 18/08/2011


Plenty of opinion pieces have been published in recent years on the autistic spectrum condition known as Asperger’s syndrome.


It has been interesting to see the proliferation of an Asperger’s diagnosis of both adults and children throughout this decade, but it has raised serious questions for me when Asperger’s is confused with giftedness.


Diagnosis of any psychological, emotional or social condition is made on the basis of the behaviours of individuals and their reporting of their thoughts and feelings. When the same behaviours, thoughts and feelings can be attributed to more than one condition, it can be difficult to determine the cause.


When one significant condition is not well understood, the chances are that the diagnosis will be incomplete. The explanation that is not considered in the case of children and adults of high ability expressing concerns about their social engagement is that they may be gifted.


This is generally because being gifted and its attendant difficulties are not well understood within the medical or educational communities.


For centuries, writers and researchers have observed and recorded how very high ability, particularly in the cognitive domain, leads to asynchronous development in the emotional, social and physical domains.


Long before Dr Asperger identified behaviours related to an inability to relate to others and social difficulties, many gifted individuals had spoken of how their intellectual drive made it difficult to connect with the mundane aspects of life.


They found that connecting to people with whom there was little in common, or sharing ideas which were new, complicated and demanding in a way that others could follow was problematic and made communication awkward.


Gifted children can appear to have the same behaviours as those with Asperger’s. They have good language skills and great memories. They have areas of deep interest, and can have great imaginations so are often dreamy and out of tune with what’s around them or be so logical and straightforward in their thinking that imagination and pretence are a mystery to them.


Many gifted children fidget, since it can help keep the brain occupied and allow them to organise their thoughts more easily, while others may hum, sing or talk to themselves to achieve the same effect.


They need time to engage in the activities that they are most satisfied by. If there are other children who also enjoy those activities, they will play with them, but most often there are not.


Gifted children will often share, at length, their interests and ideas before recognising the lack of understanding others have in the topic, so seem to be talking at, rather than with, them. They are often difficult to manage when their needs clash with the expectations and needs of others. They are protective of their time and resist being organised into joining in with children or activities they don’t relate to.


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