Similarities Between Asperger Children and Gifted Children
There seem to be at least seven characteristics common to gifted children and to children with AS. These commonalities have not been verified in any controlled studies, but are pulled from the shared literature and clinical experience. For instance, verbal fluency or precocity is common to both, and both may have excellent memories (Clark, 1992; Frith, 1991; Levy, 1988; Silverman, 1993). Both may evidence a fascination with letters or numbers and enjoy memorizing factual information at an early age. Both may demonstrate an absorbing interest in a specialized topic and may acquire vast amounts of factual information about it (Clark; Gallagher, 1985; Klin & Volkmar, 1995). 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 that it seems they are unable to stop. One gifted AS child known to the author, when asked who Christopher Columbus was, responded with a dozen sentences detailing his genealogy.
Hypersensitivity to sensory stimuli is also not uncommon in both groups of children. Parents of gifted and AS children alike often can tell stories of their child’s adamant refusal to wear certain kinds of materials, to eat foods of a certain texture, to recoil or run at the sound of noises they find particularly abrasive, or to refuse some kinds of touch.
Proposed Characteristics to Differentiate Ordinary Gifted Children from Gifted Children with Asperger’s Syndrome
|Differentiating Characteristic||Ordinary Gifted||Gifted with Asperger’s Syndrome|
|Speech Patterns||Normal, but may have language of older child||Pedantic, seamless speech|
|Response to Routines||May passively resist, but will often go along||Very low tolerance for change, agitation, aggression|
|Disturbance of Attention||If disturbance exists, it is usually external||Disturbance is internal|
|Humor||Engages in socially reciprocal humor||Can do word play, but typically doesn’t understand humor that requires social reciprocity|
|Motor Clumsiness||Not characteristic of most gifted children||50-90 % of Asperger children manifest|
|Inappropriate Affect||Not a characteristic||Nearly always observed|
|Insight||Insight usually good||Usually remarkably absent|
|Stereotypy||Not a characteristic||May be present|
Distinguishing Normal Giftedness From Asperger’s Syndrome
Several similarities between gifted children and children with AS have been noted. Some of the distinguishing criteria are listed in Table 1. One distinguishing characteristic may be found in speech patterns. AS children, like ordinary gifted children, can evidence fluent speech that seems characterized by original and analytic thinking. Although both groups of children can be highly verbal, AS children are typically pedantic, while normal gifted children are not. Frith (1991) suggested a distinction may be made by the seamlessness of the speech. AS individuals may demonstrate seamless mixtures of knowledge and personal accounts in their written or oral responses to questions. They run on and on, blending content, personal reflections, and autobiographical illustrations. They do so perhaps because they are not aware of the purpose of the questions.
A second difference lies in how they respond to routines or structure. Although both are sometimes described as resistant to routine at home or school, ordinary gifted children are not nearly as rigid about routines as some AS children are. Also, gifted children, as a rule, do not have the kinds of difficulties coping with change that AS children have. AS children can have great difficulty with the lockstep scheduling and routine of traditional classrooms, and they may refuse to cooperate with common learning tasks of school. Gifted children may express displeasure about routines and may passively resist them, but they are not as likely to panic or become aggressive as are AS children. Although both the gifted and the Asperger learner may complain about schedules and procedures, the latter is more likely to become obsessive about it (Barron & Barron, 1992; Clark, 1992; Klin & Volkmar, 1995).
There is also a difference in the whimsical behaviors that characterize AS children and some gifted children. Margaret Dewey (1992) wrote of the differences between autistic eccentricity and “garden variety eccentricity.” Her observations may be useful to those trying to draw a line between normal gifted behaviors and AS behaviors. She noted that the normal eccentric person is aware that others will regard his or her eccentric behaviors as odd, while the individual with AS is not aware. People with AS often have no sense that they have done anything out of the ordinary. This obliviousness to social conventions is a trademark of the disorder. Several writers trace this obliviousness to the lack of a “theory of mind” (Atwood, 1998).