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Giftedness and asperger syndrome

Giftedness and asperger syndrome

A diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome (AS) can present a dilemma to the parent of a gifted child. Often there is denial because some parents want to attribute the child’s difficulties to giftedness only and do not want a negative label associated with their child. Some of the emotional problems experienced by gifted children are similar to the AS child’s social awkwardness and lack of interest in peers.

Sometimes, the parent is correct in questioning such a diagnosis since the medical profession is still relatively new to AS and over diagnosis may be an issue. However, for parents who have educated themselves about the syndrome and believe their child has been given a correct diagnosis, both giftedness and AS should be taken into consideration when designing a treatment program.

Behavioral Problems Common to Children With AS

According to Dr. Stephen Bauer in his article “Asperger Syndrome”, a hallmark of AS children is their peculiar, idiosyncratic areas of special interest. These children will show an obsessive interest in a subject such as math or science and want to know everything possible about that subject. They don’t appear to understand or read the social cues that others have lost interest and do not share their enthusiasm for the topic. This inability to connect socially and display empathy leads to social isolation.
AS children often experience sensory integration problems. These problems can cause sensitivity to clothing and inability to tolerate tags in shirts or scratchy fabrics. Noise levels in the classroom and other stimuli can prove too much for the child to handle, leading to anxiety and meltdowns. Clumsiness and underdeveloped motor skills also characterize the AS child. Inability to perform tasks that come easily for other children can create frustration and antisocial behavior.

Behavioral Similarities of Gifted Children to Children With Asperger Syndrome

Gifted children can be very intense individuals, passionate about a single subject to the exclusion of other subjects and other activities. They can be highly sensitive emotionally and experience discomfort from stimuli such as noise, light, and touch at levels that do not normally bother other children. This intensity of thought and sensitivity to stimuli can manifest itself into behaviors that are considered antisocial and problematic in a classroom situation.

Relationships with same-age peers can be difficult for gifted children due to differences in intellectual development. The gifted child may appear aloof and intolerant of others who struggle to understand concepts he has already mastered. Some gifted children have motor skill difficulties similar to that of Asperger Syndrome, creating another reason they do not fit in with same-age peers.

Determine the Appropriate Treatment for the Gifted Child With AS

The similarities between giftedness and AS can be great enough to suggest a relationship between the two, as if they belong on the same spectrum. It may be tempting to disregard the seriousness of behavioral issues and label a gifted child as merely quirky. However, when the behaviors begin to create problems with academic achievement, social acceptance, and depression, professional treatment should be sought.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the ideal treatment program for AS builds on the child’s interests, offers a predictable schedule, teaches tasks as a series of simple steps, engages the child’s attention in highly structured activities, and provides regular reinforcement of behavior. A program like this would include:

  • Social skills training
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Medication for coexisting conditions such as depression and anxiety
  • Occupational or physical therapy for children with sensory integration problems or poor motor coordination
  • Specialized speech/language therapy
  • Parent training and support

Many of the treatments designed to help the AS child can be of great benefit to any gifted child. Keep in mind, though, that whatever interventions are used to treat troubling behaviors, parents should avoid getting caught up in the pathology of the child’s situation. The gifted child with AS still needs activities that foster his creativity and advanced intellectual capabilities. Emphasize the strengths of the child, build on those strengths, and minimize any connotation that the child is defective in some way.

Top Asperger’s Syndrome Books

Asperger’s Syndrome was added to the Diagnostics and Statistics Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 1994. It is one of five pervasive developmental disorders and shares some diagnostic characteristics of both autistic disorder and pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified.

While individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome may have similar symptoms as those with autistic disorder, the symptoms present differently. Information that may be helpful in addressing concerns and challenges of those with classical autism may not work for those with Asperger’s Syndrome. Parents and professionals may find that reading a book tailored to the unique challenges of individuals with AS will provide more insight than a general autism spectrum disorder book.

The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome

Tony Attwood is one of the most well respected experts on Asperger’s Syndrome. His book, The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome, is a must-have for parents of children with AS.

The book looks at a variety of challenges that individuals with AS face including theory of mind difficulties, teasing and bullying, and sensory sensitivity. The book also has segments dedicated to adults with Asperger’s Syndrome, long-term relationships, and college and career life.

The OASIS Guide to Asperger Syndrome

The Online Asperger Syndrome Information and Support (OASIS) website has proven to be the gold standard in online support and information about AS. Capitalizing on the site’s popularity, The OASIS Guide to Asperger Syndrome was published. Patricia Romanowski Bashe and Barbara L. Kirby, founders of the OASIS website, authored the book which features forewords by Simon Baron-Cohen and Tony Attwood.

The book is broken into three parts: Asperger Syndrome, Taking Control, and The Whole Child. The book is geared towards parents of children with AS and is a great resource for parents of newly diagnosed children. Topics covered in the book include information about how AS is diagnosed, a primer for medication, an introduction to the special education system, and helping your child navigate the social realm.

Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s

No AS book list would be complete without a book authored by an individual with Asperger’s Syndrome. While professionals may provide parents with a solid introduction to the clinical side of AS, a first-hand account of living with Asperger’s Syndrome is invaluable.

John Elder Robison shares his journey from nursery school through adulthood. The book is filled with humor and heartache as Robison describes life as an undiagnosed Aspie. At age 40, Robison was finally diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.

Parents and professionals seeking to learn more about Asperger’s Syndrome will find these three books an essential part of their book collection.