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Autism & giftedness

Last updated on April 27, 2021

While some autistic people have an intellectual disability (ID)[1]Link between autism genes and higher intelligence | The University of Edinburgh), most autistic people have average to above-average intelligence, but often demonstrate a significant unevenness in abilities; while we have our challenges, and there are things we aren’t as good as, autistic people typically excel in verbal tasks, as well as memory tasks (tasks that rely heavily on memory).[2]Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults: ADHD, Bipolar, OCD, Asperger’s, Depression, and Other Disorders | James T. Webb, Edward R. Amend, Nadia E. Webb


Disorder of high intelligence

Some autistic people score very high on intelligence tests, and a greater prevalence of people with IQs over 140 (gifted/genius level) has been found among autistic people.[3]Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults: ADHD, Bipolar, OCD, Asperger’s, Depression, and Other Disorders | James T. Webb, Edward R. Amend, Nadia E. Webb In fact, a link has been found between autism, high intelligence,[4]Common polygenic risk for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is associated with cognitive ability in the general population (Clarke et al., 2016) and giftedness.[5]What Genius and Autism Have in Common | Healthland Consequently, some came to call autism a “disorder of high intelligence”. Estimated rates of intellectual giftedness in autistic children are 0.7–2%, compared to up to 1% in the general public.


Twice-exceptional

Intellectually gifted people who have some other diagnosable condition—such as autism—are called twice-exceptional.[6]The Six Types of Gifted Child: The Twice-exceptional | Jade Ann Rivera[7]A Unique Challenge: Sorting Out the Differences between Giftedness and Asperger’s Disorder (Amend et al., 2009) Gifted autistic children may not be identified as being autistic because their behaviors may be wrongly attributed to either their giftedness or to a learning disability.

Seven characteristics common to gifted children and to autistic children without ID:[8]Link between autism genes and higher intelligence | The University of Edinburgh)

  1. Verbal fluency or precocity.
  2. Excellent memory.
  3. Fascination with letters or numbers, and enjoys memorizing factual information at an early age.
  4. Absorbing interest in a specialized topic, and may acquire vast amounts of factual information about it.
  5. May annoy peers with their limitless talk about their interests.
  6. May ask endless questions or give such lengthy and elaborate, specific responses to questions that it seems they are unable to stop.
  7. Hypersensitivity to sensory stimuli is common in both groups of children.
Embrace Autism | Autism & giftedness | VennDiagram Giftedness
Image: copyright © Embrace ASD

Gifted individuals who were (likely) autistic:

Thomas JeffersonOrson WellesWolfgang MozartPaul Dirac,[9]How autism leads to genius | NewStatesman Albert EinsteinIsaac Newton,[10]Einstein and Newton showed signs of autism | NewScientist Carl SaganGlenn GouldHenry Cavendish, and Ludwig Wittgenstein.[11]The World as Wittgenstein Found It | Autistic Symphony[12]The Different Thinking Styles of People With Autism | Evenbreak


Also have a look at:

Giftedness/Asperger’s Disorder Checklist

Read more:

Autism & high intelligence
This article
was written by:
martin-silvertant
Co-founder of Embrace Autism, I’m living up to my surname as a silver award-winning graphic designer. Besides running Embrace Autism and researching autism, I love typography and practice type design. I also fight dodecahedragons during sleep onset.I discovered I’m autistic when I was 19, and was diagnosed at 25.

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