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.

Gifted children:

  • 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:

  • depressed
  • frustrated
  • anxious
  • not interested in the subject being taught

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.

But if your child is gifted and autistic, it can seem like the two are connected.

Both giftedness and autism share traits like:

  • idealism
  • perseveration, an intense focus on one topic
  • high learning drive
  • sensory differences
  • a vivid imagination
  • difficulty sitting still
  • challenges with emotional regulation
  • niche areas of expertise
  • logical and precise thinking
  • divergent thinking

An autistic person who’s also gifted is considered “twice exceptional” (2e).

Giftedness and autism are types of exceptionalities. When children are both intellectually gifted and have a neurobiological difference, motor skills issue, or learning disability, they’re 2e kids.

Examples of 2e include:

Because autism and giftedness exist separately, it’s possible to have a gifted child with more pronounced autistic traits who may benefit from more support at home and at school. You can also have a fully verbal and self-sufficient autistic child with a typical IQ who isn’t twice exceptional.

Giftedness can make up for other issues and reduce their impact. For example, a 2e child who has trouble concentrating may compensate with quick thinking and still learn in school.

This may sound like a good thing, but it can cause barriers to diagnosis, which can delay support.

Giftedness can also intensify issues. A twice-exceptional child might fixate on something they can’t change longer than a nongifted child would. Or a 2e child might think of more points to use in an argument than an autistic child with average intelligence.

It’s OK if you don’t always understand your gifted autistic child. You can still help them thrive and make the most of their talents.

It helps to see the whole child and not just the issue you’re trying to address.

Giftedness can hide challenges. An issue that seems minor might be like a mostly hidden iceberg with more beneath the surface than you can see.

Effective communication is vital. You can foster this skill by actively listening to and observing your child. Wait for them to talk, and give them time to think.

It’s a good idea to pay attention to what their behavior is saying. For example, if your child yells angrily, they might feel fatigued, frustrated, or stressed rather than anger.

School strategies to help your 2e child include:

  • Consider finding activities outside of school to build on strengths, increase confidence, and find new friends.
  • Try to locate assistive technology.
  • Consider role play coaching for social skills scenarios.
  • If you can, advocate for a reduced homework load and more time for assignment completion.
  • Consider teaching planning, organizations strategies, and time management.
  • If you can, arrange for an in-school homework buddy.

Parenting a 2e child can seem like a daunting task, but the rewards make it worthwhile. Not only does your child have exceptional intellect, but they also have a refreshingly atypical perspective.

It can be helpful to reach out to other parents in the autism community and find others with 2e children like yours. You can collaborate in your shared adventure of raising extraordinary children.

If you’re looking for helpful resources, here are a few to start: