Joey loved nature more
than anything else.
As a 4-year-old,
he knew more facts about climate
zones, geography, and geology
than most high school students. His
intellectual curiosity was astonishing.
He often devised his own scientific
experiments—at home and at school.
Joey's advanced vocabulary, enjoyment
of being with older children, and high
level of motivation were noted by his
parents and preschool teachers. And
yet, Joey's socialization skills did not
match his highly developed abilities.
For example, he failed to recognize
how others felt, had unexpected
rages without clear provocation, and
often spoke in a formal and pedantic
manner that turned others off. He was
clumsy, which affected his physical
play with other children. Sensory
issues and meltdowns also were
present. Questions arose: Gifted and
quirky, Asperger's Disorder, or both?
Asperger’s Disorder is a pervasive
developmental disorder on the autism
spectrum. It is characterized by severe
deficits in age-appropriate social
interactions and restricted, repetitive
patterns of behavior or interests
(American Psychiatric Association,
2000). There is no doubt that a gifted
child can have Asperger’s Disorder and
that this combination has a profound
impact on both social interactions and
schooling (Amend & Schuler, 2004;
Cash, 1999; Neihart, 2000).
A gifted child with a disability
like Asperger’s Disorder (or a learning
disability or Attention Deficit/
Hyperactivity Disorder) is referred
to as a twice-exceptional child.
Programming for twice-exceptional
students is difficult because their abilities
often straddle both ends of the
bell-shaped curve, with strengths and
weaknesses needing to be addressed
in order for interventions to be successful.
Even though twice-exceptional
students are in the minority, identifying
these students presents a significant
challenge because gifted children who
are misunderstood can be easily misdiagnosed
by those not aware of the
typical characteristics of gifted children
(Hartnett, Nelson, & Rinn, 2004;
Lovecky, 2004; Webb et al., 2005).
All-too-often, well-meaning individuals
urge parents to seek referrals
for psychological evaluation without
considering or understanding the typical
characteristics of gifted children or
the impact of intellectual ability on
behavior and relationships. In turn,
clinicians receiving such referrals also
may fail to assess the implications of
giftedness when exploring potential
diagnoses like Asperger’s Disorder.
The interested reader is referred to the
book Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses
of Gifted Children and Adults (Webb
et al., 2005) for a thorough discussion
of diagnostic issues among the gifted
Joey’s teachers knew that he was a smart
little boy, but their focus was on his negative
classroom behaviors. A Preschool
Individualized Education Program (IEP)
was developed that emphasized managing
his sensory issues and meltdowns resulting
from his obsessive nature and rigidity
about rules. Occupational therapy
and social work, as well as services for
the family, were incorporated into Joey’s
IEP. Although these services were helpful,
Joey’s parents realized the paradoxes of
their son and sought help for his intellectual
needs and perfectionist tendencies.
They contacted a counselor/consultant
who specializes in working with gifted
children to help them with their advocacy.
The prereferral process began.
Like Joey, a gifted child’s abilities
and talents must be considered not
only in the referral process and evaluation,
but also in the prereferral intervention
phase. Prereferral is the process
of obtaining a thorough understanding
of a gifted child or adolescent by examining
the frequency, severity, and duration
of any presenting behaviors and
whether any are problematic. Current
functioning is the focus of the prereferral
process (Boland & Gross, 2007).
Interviews with parents or guardians
and the child, as well as instruments
that provide data on the functioning of
the child, help to determine appropriate
prereferral interventions. These may
include best practices found in gifted
education: daily challenge in specific
areas of talent; regular opportunities to
be unique and work independently in
passion and talent areas; various forms
of acceleration based on needs; opportunities
to socialize and to learn with
like-ability peers; and differentiated
instructional delivery, including pace,
amount of review and practice, and
organization of content presentation
(Rogers, 2007). Without appropriate
prereferral interventions, opportunities
to have a profound positive impact may
be missed. By adjusting the educational
environment and curriculum in the
prereferral stage to meet the unique
learning needs of the gifted student,
positive changes may be seen.
When the gifted child’s intensity is
combined with a classroom environment
and curriculum that do not meet
his educational needs, his behavior is
more likely to be viewed as different
(Baum & Owen, 2004; Cross, 2004)
and, perhaps, pathological. As a result,
the gifted learner with a unique interaction
style may be initially mislabeled
(and eventually misdiagnosed) when
his educational needs are not met.
This mislabeling can lead to inappropriate
interventions that result in
more—rather than less—problems in
the classroom (Eide & Eide, 2006).
Conversely, dramatic positive changes
can be realized when the gifted child’s
abilities and unique characteristics
such as intensity are taken into account
when developing prereferral strategies,
during the evaluation process,
and when identifying postevaluation
For Joey, the prereferral process included
an examination of all health records and
past testing, interviews with Joey and his
parents, teacher input, and observation
of his current level of functioning. It was
apparent that Joey demonstrated many of
the behaviors characteristic of both giftedness
and Asperger’s Disorder. When Joey
started kindergarten in a private school
with behavioral consultation services, the
gifted counselor/consultant recommended
a variety of acceleration, enrichment,
and different grouping opportunities to
meet his cognitive and social needs. It
also was recommended that Joey’s parents
enroll him in a research study on autism
at a nearby center known for its work
with autism spectrum disorders. It was
there that Joey was formally diagnosed
with Asperger’s Disorder. Fortunately,
Joey’s highly gifted intellectual abilities
also were recognized. Suggestions by the
center dovetailed those given in the prereferral
process to develop Joey’s strengths
while accommodating his weaknesses.
Although the literature on
Asperger’s Disorder is replete with
many references to high ability/giftedness
and Asperger’s Disorder (e.g.,
Attwood, 2007; Bashe & Kirby, 2001;
Grandin & Duffy, 2004), there is, at
this time, only one instrument that
delineates giftedness and characteristics
of Asperger’s Disorder. BurgerVeltmeijer
(2008) of the Netherlands
created the Dimensional Discrepancy
Model GFT + ASD (DD-Checklist)
to help psychologists observe the
characteristics of gifted-like manifestations
versus Asperger’s Disorder-like
The Giftedness/Asperger’s Disorder
Checklist (GADC) to be presented
here was similarly developed to help
educators, mental health professionals,
and parents during the prereferral process
to see if environmental interventions
would be beneficial in the process
of determining the need for more formal
diagnostic evaluation. Like the
DD-Checklist, the GADC focuses
on the educational and psychological
needs of the student who may or may not be gifted and who may or may
not have Asperger’s Disorder. To avoid
unneeded or inappropriate interventions,
parents and educators may want
to complete the GADC in Table 1 to
help them to determine which interventions
(e.g., those for gifted students
or those for students with Asperger’s
Disorder) may be most appropriate,
and to help decide whether to refer the
gifted child for thorough psychological
The GADC is a clinically developed
instrument designed as a tool to help
guide parents, educators, and clinicians
toward possible interventions
and to help them begin to determine
whether an unsuitable, inflexible, or
unreceptive educational environment
is contributing to the child’s unusual
or inappropriate behavior. Although
the information contained within this
checklist comes from both research
and clinical experience with these
populations, this checklist has not
been validated or normed in any way.
The GADC is designed to facilitate
appropriate interventions in the prereferral
stage and should never be used
as a substitute for formal and comprehensive
evaluation when further study
is necessary to determine causes of
The GADC contains characteristics
that are observed in gifted children
or those exhibiting Asperger’s
Disorder, and these characteristics are
taken from a variety of sources (e.g.,
American Psychiatric Association,
2000; Attwood, 2007; Cash, 1999;
Klin, Volkmar, & Sparrow, 2000;
Little, 2002; Mesibov, Shea, & Adams,
2001; Neihart, 2000; Silverman &
Weinfeld, 2007; Webb et al., 2005).
Recent research on gifted children on
the autism spectrum (Assouline, Foley
Nicpon, Colangelo, & O’Brien, 2008)
has presented additional empirical data
on the characteristics of gifted children
who have Asperger’s Disorder. Case
studies also provide relevant data for
identification (Amend & Schuler,
2004; Cash, 1999; McKeigue, 2008;
Schuler & O’Leary, 2008).
Some of the characteristics that
gifted children exhibit also are seen
in children with Asperger’s Disorder
(Attwood, 2007; Burger-Veltmeijer,
2008; Lovecky, 2004; Neihart, 2000;
Webb et al., 2005). Although similar,
the behaviors may present a bit differently
and/or the motivation for the
behavior may be different. The behavioral
descriptors and characteristics
in the GADC are intended to help
differentiate between giftedness and
Asperger’s Disorder. The domains or
categories to be explored are listed with
multiple descriptors in each domain.
Because there is some overlap between
giftedness and Asperger’s Disorder,
some characteristics may not necessarily
help to differentiate between the two
groups—these are not included here.
The GADC includes general behaviors
characteristic of children in each
group, and it would be unlikely for all
descriptors in either category to apply
to one child. However, if only a select
few of the characteristics listed here
apply to the child in question, then it
may be best to consider interventions
or assessment in areas other than giftedness
or Asperger’s Disorder.
Using the GADC
To use the GADC, simply mark
those items that apply to the child. To
determine accurate differentiation, two
principles should be followed. First,
observe the child’s behaviors when he is
with others who have similar intellectual
abilities and/or interests. Secondly,
examine the child’s insight about how
other people see him and his behaviors
(Webb et al., 2005). If most of
the checks are in the gifted column,
implement curriculum modifications
and differentiation strategies such as
those discussed in books like Teaching
Gifted Kids in the Regular Classroom
(Winebrenner & Espeland, 2000),
Teaching Young Gifted Children in the
Regular Classroom (Smutny, Walker,
& Meckstroth, 1997), or Re-Forming
Gifted Education (Rogers, 2002).
If most of the checks fall on the
Asperger’s side or if the responses are
fairly evenly split, attempt strategies to
address the specific behaviors observed
(Kraus, 2004) and consider referring
the child for formal evaluation to
explore both giftedness and Asperger’s
Disorder. In these cases, books such
as Helping a Child With Nonverbal
Learning Disorder or Asperger’s Disorder
(Stewart, 2007), Succeeding in College
With Asperger Syndrome (Harpur,
Lawlor, & Fitzgerald, 2004), A Parent’s
Guide to Asperger Syndrome and HighFunctioning
Autism (Ozonoff, Dawson,
& McPartland, 2002), and Asperger’s:
What Does It Mean to Me? (Faherty,
2000) may be helpful in providing
information and strategies.
Although his intellectual abilities had
been identified, Joey’s experience in the
private school was not positive for him
because the focus remained on his social
and emotional difficulties. Because his
highly gifted cognitive needs were not
being met, Joey’s parents chose to place
him in their local public school in an
attempt to find a balance that addressed
both strengths and concerns. As strong
advocates for their son, Joey’s parents were
able to demonstrate his need for grade
acceleration as well as additional subject
acceleration in his strength area—mathematics.
Joey’s parents provided school
personnel with articles on gifted children
with Asperger’s Disorder from 2e: The
Twice Exceptional Newsletter as well as
other resources from the gifted counselor/
consultant. Awareness, understanding,
and acceptance of Joey’s giftedness made
the difference in how his teachers viewed him and what educational interventions
If, after the prereferral process and
intervention, clinicians, parents, and
teachers agree that modifying the child’s
environment is not producing positive
results, further evaluation should be
considered. Formal diagnostic tools such
as the Autism Diagnostic Observation
Schedule (Lord, Rutter, DiLavore, &
Risi, 2000), the Asperger’s Syndrome
Diagnostic Scale (Myles, Bock, &
Simpson, 2000), the Australian Scale
for Asperger’s Syndrome (Garnett &
Attwood, 1995), the Gilliam Autism
Rating Scale (Gilliam, 2006), and
the Childhood Autism Rating Scale
(Schopler, Reichler, & Renner, 1998)
should be considered when a more comprehensive
evaluation is needed. Only
qualified and experienced professionals
should administer these instruments.
Whether or not giftedness is
thought to be involved, parents and
educators should seek a qualified psychologist
who has experience with both
giftedness and Asperger’s Disorder. It
is never appropriate to label a gifted
child—or any child—with a disorder
such as Asperger’s Disorder without a
comprehensive evaluation to rule out
other potential causes for the behaviors
Thus far, the GADC has been useful
only in informal and prereferral
processes to help determine appropriate
interventions for gifted children and
those thought to show characteristics
of autism spectrum disorders before
formal evaluation is sought. It is in this
arena that there is value to the GADC
at this time. Before referral for formal
evaluation, much can be done to lessen
the stress, improve the academic performance,
and enhance the social and
emotional development of children who
demonstrate behaviors that resemble
those along the autism spectrum. The
GADC is a step toward identifying the
category of interventions that may be
beneficial for a particular child who
may or may not be gifted, or may or
may not have Asperger’s Disorder. The
authors, who primarily work in private
and/or school-related facilities, have not
formally evaluated the reliability and
validity of the GADC. They encourage
researchers to explore its usefulness
in order to increase the utility of
the GADC and its impact on gifted or
twice-exceptional youth. The authors
firmly believe that using the GADC in
the prereferral stage will lead to fewer
inappropriate referrals and referrals that
are more carefully screened, provide
direction regarding appropriate intervention,
and increase the likelihood
that giftedness, rather than pathology,
might be explored as an hypothesis for
the behaviors in question.
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This article originally appeared in Gifted Child Today and is reprinted with permission from SAGE Journals.
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