Autistic or gifted? Maybe both. How to help a “special” child

THEThe IQ is high, very high. But their life is often half hell. A gifted child is a child with a gift, of course (it is no coincidence that the English term for the gifted is gifted). “But his condition is often associated with an enormous relational difficulty. Indeed, an autism spectrum disorder or a specific learning disorder: in short, a double exceptionality», Explains Maria Assunta Zanetti, scientific director of LabTalento, ihe first Italian University Laboratory, of the University of Pavia, which is responsible for certifying and accompanying children and young people with high cognitive potential.

«It happens every day to certify children with a high IQwho cognitively are two, three, four years older than their age, and a very low EQ: that of their age, if not lower. Here, the disharmony between these two aspects conditions life and makes it very tiring », explains Zanetti.

The surplus equipment among the school desks

Highly gifted children are about 5 percent of the population, explains the professor. It means that in each class there is more or less one. Children that the school system mostly neglects. «The distribution of intelligence is a Gaussian curve: at the center are the boys with an average intelligence, about 68% of the students. School training courses take care of them. M.a on the sides of the peak there are the weaker intelligences, on the left, and the stronger ones, on the right: slices of the population that the school system pays little attention to ».

The result is that, as soon as they can, these children, who have become boys, give up. “It’s the so-called capable drop outthe school dropout of the capable: dispersion is a theme even in the case of above average intelligence », explains Zanetti.

Elio e le Storie Tese, the son of the frontman on stage with his father:

I have a gifted child: hurray?

The surplus is very cumbersome, and certainly not a trophy: there are parents who overstimulate their children, considering their difference only from the performance point of view », admits Zanetti. However, most of the people who contact LabTalento are ‘desperate parents: why their children have difficulty in school, not at home“.

It is in fact mostly in the confrontation with peers that the difference emerges, and difficulties emerge. On the other hand, at home, where the child has to deal with applauding adults (like all parents!), Intelligence and verbal verve are only points of merit. For this reason, LabTalento does not evaluate children under the age of six.

Pietro, gifted and isolated

At the age of four, Peter knows all the planets of the solar system and he can tell, with the good approximation of an adult, “what happened at the time of the Big Bang,” to use his own words. The grandparents carry him in triumph and clap their hands at every performance of him. But his classmates avoid him, and he avoids them: when they interact, only he talks, and for hours, fixing himself on details and details without ever getting to the point.

It is a typical example of gifted child with autism spectrum disorderas told by Sara Isoli, speech therapist (at the studio Dirsicose): «The greatest difficulties of children with high cognitive potential and autism spectrum disorders are in the area of ​​pragmatics».

The universe is better than the parquet

On the lexical and grammatical front, Pietro in fact gets along very well. Indeed, he uses refined and even alienating words in the mouth of a child. And complex and very long sentences. “As a consequence of his cognitive level, he has peculiar interests, both in terms of arguments and in intensity: he is passionate about specific subjects, and tendentially in the logical-scientific field. By studying these subjects he can in fact fulfill his desire for predictability. That same desire which is instead terribly frustrated by social interaction », continues Isoli.

For Pietro (and for children like him) dealing with the other is not always attractive or pleasant. When he enters into a relationship, it is to be listened to: like everyone else, of course. But in him this motivation becomes absolute: he continues to speak without making sure that he has the attention of others, fixating on details that only interest him. “In primary school, children with these characteristics are able to compensate for communication difficulties with their intelligence,” explains Isoli. “But their learning is often not spontaneous, nor implicit or derived from the context. It needs to be learned explicitly, a bit like a learned formula ».

Gifted children, how to recognize them?

So how do you recognize a gifted child? “Children often tend to compensate for their difficulties, and even autism and ASD, with intelligence. Especially females do it, to the point that we happen to certify as a gifted brother, in obvious difficulty, and then find the same “gift” in the sister. Which she, on the other hand, she had disguised, adapting, adapting, sublimating and hiding her difference on a social level ». The kind of little girl who always seems to be in the clouds? She.

They compensate, children, especially in primary school, when their difficulty in learning uThe study method is “hidden” by the excellent memory and good verbal competence.

They can be able to compensate for specific learning disorders and the spectrum of autism, which, not infrequently, occur together with the surplus: “So we happen to evaluate 11/12 year olds to discover that they also have a disorder that no one is aware of. he was aware, ”says Zanetti, of LabTalento.

Difficulty in communicating does not usually leave them as they grow up: “Conversational pragmatics continues to have original characteristics: for example, they are people who tend to be too close or too far from the interlocutor, to touch him too much or not at all, and to be hyperverbal, and not to consider opinion, but not even the signals of distraction, of those in front of them, ”explains the speech therapist.

The certification of surplus endowment

The certification of surplus endowment at LabTalento it costs 260 euros and includes various steps: «They contact us from all over Italy, first of all we ask parents to fill out a form to understand if the conditions are met. Then we proceed with an anamnestic interview in the presence of both parents and at that point the child, or boy, is evaluated for about a day and a half, both from an intellectual and an emotional point of view ». Most parents asking for certification were right. “On average, 10% of the children we evaluate are not gifted”. Certification can also be requested with the public service.

Advice to parents of gifted children (and others)

The advice of the experts to parents of gifted children goes in the same direction: “They often struggle to see their children’s efforts, because it is more rewarding to see their strengths. But for a harmonious development it is instead necessary to open our eyes to frailties and strengthen the relational aspect of life, the one in which they occur ». To Peter, obsessed with the universe and the planets, it is more useful to have a snack with his companions class and look with them at the figurines of the planets than to stay alone to study them, one by one. Although, of course, it is in this second case that he will memorize them better.

In the same way, says Zanetti, “to a child who asks ten questions, it may make sense not to give all 10 answers, but only 9. Don’t be over-performing, neither are you, as parents“.

And to a child, cognitively with high potential but with an autism spectrum disorder, who tries in every way to escape the moment of the relationship? «The meeting with peers is fundamental, it must be encouraged», Isoli explains: «If the social interaction does not give him pleasure, growing up he will probably always tend to avoid it, he will be a lonely adult. But our job now, as speech therapists, parents and teachers, is to provide them with the tools to face and live in the world», To be integrated and recognized by society, in its difference.

Autism is this, and much more

An apostille is a must. And for this purpose a reading suggestion is well worth it. I live elsewhere, Autism is not cured, it is understood is a collection of autism stories, signed by Beppe Stoppa, with a preface by Elio (leader of “Elio e le Storie Tese” and father of an autistic son). Difficult and surprising, painful stories, to say that “there is not only the autism of the genes, that’s not what I saw, ”says Stoppa. “The kids and adults I met to write this book don’t look like those in the movies. They may, yes, have a fixation, which turns them into real phenomena on a specific topic. Or they can surprise you in an extraordinary way. Like, I remember, a girl who couldn’t speak but could sing. But most of the time, the existence of these people is to survive the little things in life as impossible feats“.

In short, it is no coincidence when it comes to autism spectrum disorders: this is a universe made up of many worlds, mostly very mysterious. Stoppa says: «How do you go to the hairdresser if you “feel bad” when they cut your hair? Even going to the hairdresser becomes a journey in stages: first you go to meet the man with the scissors, have a chat, maybe a couple of times, then you try to sit on the chairs, get your hair done… ». For parents, fatigue is daily, long-term anguish: «A father», Stoppa says, «told me that he found himself having to teach his son autoeroticism. Can you imagine it? But for everyone, fathers and mothers, the constant thought is on after us: offering children a home and the tools to live in the world, without them ». For these, and for others, society, and not just the family, must take care of finding answers and solutions.


Autistic or gifted? Maybe both. How to help a “special” child