Expat Psychologist Amsterdam / PsyBlog  / AUTISTIC & GIFTED: THE TWICE EXCEPTIONAL CHILD


Is your child a genius? Or is his highly developed interest in archaeology the obsessive behavior of an autistic child? Or is he both, really smart and on the autism spectrum? it’s often not easy to tease the two apart. Kids who are twice-exceptional, burdened and blessed with both qualities.

Diagnosis is complicated. Seventy-five percent of people with autism score at 70 or below on intelligence tests and are therefore determined to be intellectually disabled. The other 25 percent presumably have average to superior intelligence. Giftedness can mask the symptoms of autism, and autism can mask giftedness. Gifted kids sometimes exhibit behaviors (like an obsession with facts, intense preoccupation with an area of interest, lack of interest in peers, etc.) that are characteristic of autism. Kids with autism can develop such expertise in their particular intense interest that adults initially miss the fact that they aren’t equally smart about navigating the social world.

Without help, twice-exceptional children are often misunderstood and isolated. It is up to adult helpers and parents to translate the world to such children and such children to the world. They have special gifts and special needs. With careful coaching and support, they can learn the skills to become connected to others and to be contributing members of their communities. Most important, they can be happy with who they are! Teasing out whether a child is gifted and talented, autistic, or both is crucial if we are to provide child with the correct supports and services. Life doesn’t prepare most parents for a twice-exceptional child.

Giftedness tends to run in families, so many of the traits that indicate giftedness are common among extended family members. Parents can look at a sign of giftedness and consider it perfectly normal, average behavior. After all, several family members have the same trait. Parents can also look at a list of traits and just be unsure if their child really fits the descriptions, so it’s good to compare a child’s development to the average developmental milestones. It’s also a good idea to see what is considered advanced development.