How Can We Support Gifted Children on the Spectrum?

How Can We Support Gifted Children on the Spectrum?

By Dr Wesley Turner, Clinical Psychologist

Often, ASD individuals who are also Gifted present with a combination of cognitive abilities and executive function difficulties that result in a ‘perfect storm’ that negatively impacts on academic and social performance.

Typically, their neurocognitive profiles 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); and
  • Visual Spatial Processing (the ability to understand and evaluate visual information, details and visual spatial relationships).

These individuals may be correct or ‘right’ despite being impulsive, which ends up rewarding their behaviour and beliefs. Conversely, they are 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 overreliance on their cognitive strengths to essentially carry them through any difficult tasks that they cannot avoid.

However, these unhelpful cycles can be broken 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 them to take unfinished assignments home
  • Utilise ‘Stop & Think’: focusing on accrued points/percentage accuracy instead of speed to reinforce them engaging in self-monitoring and striving for accuracy

  • Provide them with 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:

ASD individuals who are gifted 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 haves 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, we recommend booking in an appointment with a Psychologist with experience working with ASD and Gifted (Twice Exceptional) children.