Autism and giftedness can go hand in hand. Twice-exceptional kids have great ability, but they also face certain challenges.
Giftedness and autism share some qualities, like intellectual excitability and sensory differences. Some kids have these qualities because they’re both gifted and autistic.
If your child is nonverbal and shies away from eye contact and touch but can play piano concertos after hearing them only once, it’s easy to spot the coexistence of autism and giftedness.
It’s usually not that obvious, though. Not all autistic kids avoid eye contact or shun hugs, and many are great conversationalists. Meanwhile, only a few gifted kids are prodigies with exceptional recall.
It’s more likely you’ve noticed that your child has some impressive, detailed knowledge about a focused interest, plus they show bouts of emotional intensity or sensory issues that are common in gifted children.
Giftedness is extraordinary ability, high IQ, or both. It’s a neurological sensitivity that changes the way a person experiences the world.
- learn faster and more easily
- get bored very quickly
- feel emotions and physical sensations more intensely
- remember things more acutely
- think and reason with increased complexity
- need challenge, change, and novelty
- experience social isolation
- are detached from social norms
The IQ level that is considered gifted, or having higher intellectual abilities, is 130 or higher. This is within the top 2% of the population.
IQ isn’t the only factor used to assess cognitive level because IQ tests can measure only your functioning at the time of the test. If you are ill or distracted by stress or troubling thoughts, you might not score as well as you could.
This is why psychologists perform full assessments and not only IQ tests when they identify giftedness.
Giftedness and high scholastic achievement are not the same. With discipline and good study habits, a student with an “average” IQ can earn excellent grades in school.
Meanwhile, a gifted student can struggle in school and underachieve. This is often because they are:
Gifted kids aren’t always very motivated by grades. Instead, they may care more about the things they consider relevant, important, or interesting.
Without early acceleration, gifted children may experience lower grades as they get older. If their early schoolwork is too easy, they don’t have the opportunity to learn study skills and work ethic. As the difficulty level of subject material increases, their grades can drop.
Other differences between gifted students and high achievers include:
- High achievers develop evenly as they mature, whereas gifted kids develop in an uneven way, with some abilities far surpassing others.
- Gifted people have more sensitivity and emotional intensity than high achievers.
- High achievers may be more extroverted than gifted people, who are more likely to be introverts.
Some school gifted and talented programs base entrance criteria on achievement rather than intelligence testing. Many also include a larger portion than the top 2%. This means that some students in these programs may be high achievers who aren’t gifted.
In the United States, 1 in 59 children is autistic. About 70% of autistic people have an intellectual disability, which means they have an IQ lower than 70. The remaining 30% have intelligence that ranges from average to gifted.
Autism and intelligence are two separate characteristics. A person can be autistic with any level of intelligence.