Disorder or personality trait with great strengths?
Asperger’s autism and giftedness are phenomena that have always fascinated people. Now that more and more people are willing to publicly report their personality traits, people with high giftedness and/or Asperger’s autism are finally allowed to “come out”. However, there is still a lot of misinformation about Asperger’s autism and giftedness. This article aims to clear up some of it….
What do Asperger’s autism and high giftedness mean?
In brief, both Kanner’s autism and Asperger’s autism belong to the so-called “severe developmental disorders” with onset in early childhood. “Kanner’s autism” is characterized by considerable difficulties in language acquisition and expression, usually also a reduction in intelligence and motor problems, followed by considerable difficulties in social contact and communication, as well as severely restricted interests or perhaps a pronounced special interest and a variety of repetitive (recurring and always the same) behaviors. However, people with Kanner’s autism are usually not meant colloquially when “autism” is mentioned.
“Asperger’s autism” refers to the so-called “mild form of autism”, i.e. a form of autism in which language acquisition and expression and usually intelligence are not impaired. Many people with Asperger’s autism even have high intelligence or are highly gifted. Because the transitions are often fluid, the technical term “autism spectrum disorder (ASD)” was coined a few years ago. Autism and Asperger’s autism are recognized as disabilities, and those who have this diagnosis can apply for a severe disability card. Approximately 2% of people are affected according to ICD 10/ICD 11.
Highly gifted and highly intelligent are, in summary, the descriptions for a very high intelligence (about 10% of the population, measured by an IQ test, belonging to the “highly intelligent” of which about 2% belong to the “highly gifted”), which manifests itself above all in a very high speed of thinking and learning, associated with a different distribution of interests and precisely therefore also a different demand for communication and social contacts, which is clearly distinct from the majority of the population. Highly gifted and highly intelligent children are still not considered to have a “disorder with disease value” and are therefore not included in the benefit summaries of health insurance companies or health insurers.
Although a great deal has been reported and published about “giftedness in children” and “giftedness in adults” in recent years and the term “giftedness” is well established in our society, it has a rather negative connotation. “Highly gifted” triggers envy and feelings of inferiority and fear in many people, mostly due to ignorance or misconceptions. Whoever comes out as an adult with giftedness often receives ridicule and scorn, is ridiculed as a “weirdo” or even ostracized. Parents who have highly gifted children often experience rejection, lack of understanding or are even discriminated against.
Similarities between Asperger’s autism (ASD) and high giftedness
Both a high level of giftedness and Asperger’s autism as well as high sensitivity and synesthesia are now summarized under the term “neurodiversity”. In simplified terms, this is based on a “differently” functioning nervous system with a higher level of complexity of connection points (synapses) in the brain.
People with Asperger’s autism (often affectionately referred to as “Aspies”) and high giftedness have some things in common, especially with regard to communication and social contact. For example, for both people with Asperger’s autism and people with a high level of giftedness, communication primarily serves the function of “a relevant or meaningful exchange of information at the factual level.” So when people talk to each other, they do so to get new and hopefully interesting information. The “small talk about the last soccer game or the weather” that is so popular in our society is usually too superficial for people with Asperger’s autism as well as for highly gifted people and does not contain any relevant or significant new information. I can look up the information about the last soccer game if I care, and I see that it is raining outside right now—that’s trivial and I don’t need to have a conversation about it.
Therefore, both people with Asperger’s autism and those who are highly gifted usually hate “small talk” or attending parties, and often avoid “social gatherings” such as meetings or mainstream activities because other pursuits are usually more exciting for the gifted or Aspies.
And since people with Asperger’s autism and with giftedness are in the minority compared to the general population and feel so “different,” they often come across as having no interest in other people and often isolate themselves or come across as arrogant, which is usually not true.
People with Asperger’s autism and with giftedness want an exchange “at eye level”, without having to explain themselves, slow down their speed of thinking, or jump topics because others “can’t keep up”. They want acceptance, integration, and understanding. This is exactly why CLEVER PEOPLE was created—it’s the Unique Network for the Highly Gifted and Asperger’s Autistic.
Dr. Karin Joder, private practice for giftedness.