Helping Gifted Children on the Spectrum Thrive Academically & Socially

Sep 18, 2019

by Dr Wesley Turner, Clinical Psychologist at Minds & Hearts

Individuals with ASD who are gifted often present with a ‘perfect storm’ of cognitive abilities and executive function difficulties, that can negatively impact on their academic and social performance.

The neurocognitive profiles of such gifted children or individuals typically include discrepancies in the following areas:

  • Cognitive Flexibility – the ability to make transitions, tolerate change, problem-solve flexibility and switch attention
  • Inhibitory Control – the ability to resist impulses and stop behaviour
  • Emotion Control – the ability to self-regulate emotional responses
  • Fluid Reasoning – the ability to detect the underlying conceptual relationships among visual objects and use reasoning to identify and apply rules
  • Initiation – the ability to get started on physical and mental activities, particularly those that may not be immediately rewarding
  • Working Memory – the ability to register, maintain and manipulate visual and auditory information in conscious awareness, which requires attention and concentration, as well as visual and auditory discrimination
  • Planning and Organisation – the ability to set goals and how to reach them, and the ability to order information and recognise key ideas or concepts
  • Processing Speed – abilities relating to visual scanning, visual discrimination, short-term visual memory, visual-motor coordination, and concentration
  • Self-Monitoring – the level of awareness an individual has on the effect their behaviour has on themselves and others
  • Verbal Comprehension – the ability to verbalise meaningful concepts, think about verbal information, and express using words
  • Visual Spatial Processing – the ability to understand and evaluate visual information, details and visual spatial relationships

Gifted children or individuals with ASD may be correct or ‘right’ despite being impulsive. This, in effect, ends up rewarding their instinctive behaviours and beliefs. Conversely, they are also naturally less likely to seek out situations in which they may be incorrect or make mistakes. This in turn reinforces their avoidance of difficult tasks, as well as promoting an over-reliance on their cognitive strengths to carry them through any difficult tasks that they cannot avoid.

These unhelpful behavioural cycles can, however, be addressed and improved through a variety of strategies!

Assessment and Study Strategies:

  • Emphasise accuracy rather than speed in evaluating their work
  • Replace timed tests with alternative assessment procedures
  • Allow gifted children to take unfinished assignments home
  • Utilise ‘Stop & Think’: focusing on accrued points/percentage accuracy instead of speed to reinforce engagement in self-monitoring and striving for accuracy

  • Provide context, explicit instructions and guidance on tasks they are likely to misunderstand. This could include explicitly explaining the type of work they are required to show on a maths task (e.g., only showing their working for new/novel processes, rather than all included processes) and/or providing them with context regarding why they are required to do it (e.g., they are making too many errors in punctuation, etc. and need to improve their accuracy).

Academic and Social Inferencing:

Gifted children and individuals with ASD can also be helped to develop their inferencing skills via the following orienting questions:

“What is my inference?”

Helps orient them to the fact that they have made an inference by filling in information that wasn’t explicitly provided.

“What information did I use to make this inference?”

Encourages them to explain what information they utilised to come up with their inference (e.g., information presented in the text, prior knowledge, etc.).

“How accurate was my inference?”

Encourages them to examine the validity of their thinking/inference.

“Do I need to change my inference?”

This final step encourages them to reflect upon whether they need to make changes in their thinking process. The aim is not to invalidate their original inference, but to develop a habit of testing and updating their thinking as they gather new information.

Though the above strategies are by no means exhaustive, they provide a brief insight into how gifted children on the spectrum can be helped to thrive academically and socially.

For more strategies and guidance around how to support gifted children on the spectrum, we recommend booking in an appointment with a Psychologist with clinical experience in this area.