Giftedness or Asperger's Syndrome (AS)
By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D
I have a niece who has just turned 3 this last Dec. She was
very quiet as a baby, and language development was slow, not
really speaking until about the age of 2. When faced with
others including peers she would stare straight at you as if
you were some kind of nut almost without any facial
movement. Now she does communicate very well with a very
large vocabulary. She is able to spell and write out her own
name as well as other words such as cat, pig, dog, etc.
She would rather read her story books or do her "homework"
instead of playing with her toys. She can talk up a storm
now and speaks as if she is eleven or older she is sociable
with her peers (takes ballet classes) but is shy acting. She
is very clingy to her mother and father. She cries very
easily at things and cannot be calmed down easily sometimes
causing herself to throw up usually for no reason at all.
When becoming upset she tells her mother "you have to calm
me down mom, calm me down." and at other times she pushes
her away telling her to don't touch me. It almost seems as
if she is having a nervous breakdown.
She is a very "odd" child even in her parent's words. She
seems overly sensitive but is extremely intelligent. She
stops doing what she is doing to watch conversation of
adults and listens very intently. I wonder if there might be
a child disorder that she may have I have started to
research Asperger's Disorder. My sister is very concerned
and considering home school. Please help if possible. Thank
A: Though I may not be an
expert on Asperger's Syndrome, I may be able to suggest a
few things here. From your description, it does resemble the
Asperger's syndrome, but then again, it may just be profound
giftedness. A child with Asperger's Syndrome may still talk
to people, but will avoid eye contact as they talk. From
what I understand, children with Asperger's Disorder have
trouble with social interaction.
It has been documented that children with Asperger's
Syndrome are sometimes describes as little professors. "Children
with AS may show advanced abilities for their age in
language, reading, mathematics, spatial skills, or music,
sometimes into the 'gifted' range" (From Wikipedia, the
free encyclopedia). These children are highly verbal as with
your niece. They may also have obsessive interests in
certain areas with exceptional memories. Their IQ is often
above average and they are hypersensitive to sensory stimuli
and experience social isolation. Some of these may be
similar to your description.
At the same time, some of these characteristics are
demonstrated by gifted children as well. On the issue of
shyness, for some gifted children, it takes some time to
warm up to people or new situations and they certainly
should not be forced to participate when they are not ready.
In reality, this may have to do with perfectionism as they
need to know everything before they act or participate.
Often, this is mistaken for shyness. In fact, they may just
be the very cautious gifted children.
However, upon detailed examination, the main difference
between gifted children and children with Asperger's
Syndrome is motivation for such behaviours. For instance,
both gifted children and children with Asperger's Syndrome
may be highly verbal; but gifted child can think rather
abstractly but children with Asperger's Syndrome are very
literal and have a difficult time with abstract thought. As
opposed to memorizing facts and impressing adults with the
power of memory (as with children with Asperger's Disorder),
gifted children are able to understand and grasp the
concepts behind the words.
The best thing for you to do now is to advise you sister to
see a professional who is able to diagnose if indeed your
niece has any disability. You may also want to contact
gifted associations in your state (I assume the USA), by
going to the following website:
For information on Asperger's Disorder, you may want to
refer this website:
Misdiagnosis And Dual Diagnoses Of Gifted Children And Adults: ADHD, Bipolar, OCD, Asperger's, Depression, And Other Disorders
James T. Webb Ph.D, Edward R. Amend Psy.D, Nadia E. Webb Psy.D
Our brightest, most creative children and adults are often
being misdiagnosed with behavioral and emotional disorders
such as ADHD, Oppositional-Defiant Disorder, Bipolar, OCD,
or Asperger's. Many receive unneeded medication and
inappropriate counseling as a result.
Written for parents and professionals
Characteristics of gifted children and adults
Diagnoses most commonly given to gifted children and adults
Traits of diagnoses incorrectly given to gifted children and
Guidelines to avoid mislabeling gifted children
Parent-child relationship problems
Issues for gifted adults
Advice for selecting a counselor or health care professional