Are Aspergers and HFA Children Too Smart For Their Own Good?

One parent's search for answers to a particularly distressing school situation led her to characterize the plight of her 9-year-old Aspergers son like this: "The good news is he's bright, and the bad news is he's bright!"

This revealing description makes a sadly accurate statement about an educational system that not only fails to understand the Aspergers and High-Functioning Autistic (HFA) youngster – it also fails to recognize that such understanding is in fact necessary if positive change is to occur. An analysis of what this parent meant by her statement gives one a window on the sometimes bizarre world of the disorder.

In most disorders, a descriptor like "high functioning" is an excellent indicator of potential success – thus, the good news. How then can intelligence be considered bad news? The answer to this question lies in the paradoxical nature of the disorder itself.

Kids on the autism spectrum are cognitively intact (i.e., they possess normal, if not above-average intelligence). This creates an expectation for success. Furthermore, the pursuit of their restricted range of interests and activities often results in (a) the amassing of impressive facts, and (b) an expertise beyond their years. This is a potential problem!

Given their enormous strengths and the expectations that they generate – and given the fact that intelligence is a highly-prized trait in our culture – the intellectual prowess in Aspergers and HFA children virtually eclipses the social-emotional deficits that are at the heart of the unusual behavior associated with the disorder.

Unmindful of their neurologically-based weaknesses, parents and teachers get blinded by the strengths of these kids. This situation inevitably leads to a mind-set that can be summed up as follows: "If he is that smart, shouldn't he know better?" The answer to that question is a resounding "no." In fact, because of the social-emotional deficits, as well as the presence of symptoms unique to the disorder, these kids can't "know better" until they are “taught” to know and understand.

Consequently, in order to create a hospitable environment for kids with Aspergers and HFA in a world that is often inhospitable to their needs, it's vital that parents and teachers employ direct teaching strategies to address the following specific areas:
  • Executive dysfunction (i.e., problems in organizational skills/planning) 
  • Perspective-taking 
  • Problem solving 
  • Reading/language comprehension 
  • Socio-communicative understanding and expression

Together, these target areas constitute a kind of “life-skills curriculum” for the more able youngster/student. Their inclusion in the youngster's Individualized Education Program (IEP)) can help to ensure that each of these important skill areas gets the attention it deserves. After all, life skills are far too important to be left to chance!

More resources for parents of children and teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism:

==> Parenting System that Reduces Problematic Behavior in Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism


• Anonymous said...Thank You!! It's so nice to hear support like this. I'm a single mom of an 8-year old Asperger's Child (Boy) and I appreciate you recognizing the work mom's do!!

• Anonymous said...Great article, many thanks, so true.

• Anonymous said...One of the best bits of advice I ever got on parenting was this, "Love them, love them, love them!" I like to have a plan, I like things cut and dry, I like things structured - and was dismayed to discover how often these things did not fit into the real-life raising of a child with Asperger's where there is so much unknown and uncharted! After initial research and all the conflicting information out there, I decided to fully embrace that love advice - it was the one thing I could keep constant. No matter what kind of day we've had, not matter what the current issue is, my daughter ends each night with no doubt as to my complete love for her and accepting of her. I show my love to her by reading her wonderful stories and commenting on her amazing drawings, I show love to her by keeping my voice calm and gentle when reminding her three times of the one task I have asked her to do, I show love by not complaining about her need for the same sandwich at bedtime EVERY night and kissing her when I bring it to her, I show love to her by not allowing her to self-absorb in an electronic game by setting the timer for her to alert her to the time, etc. And I tell her a million times a day that I love her, that I am proud of her, I tell her when she has expressed her feelings really well, I thank her for joining into the conversation and tell her what I liked about her comments. All these things add up to success, because if my child is filled up with love and acceptance - she will have what she needs to work hard and succeed in anything.

• Anonymous said...Thanks for the words of encouragement! Parenting is a challenging job in itself--but adding a disability of any kind intensifies the job! My 14 year old son with Aspergers is amazing in so many ways--but I'm exhausted keeping ahead of him to ensure he'll succeed. I also have two other sons, and their needs are important, too. Reading this today brought tears to my eyes as I don't often look at it that way--often I feel like I can't keep up. My husband also has Aspergers, and he does what he can. Thanks again!

• Anonymous said...It is so nice to have 'someone' say you are doing okay!!

• Anonymous said...Being a single mum of a highly intelligent 13 year old son with Asperger's and his 11 year old brother is completely exhausting and my confidence continually fluctuates between 'soaring' and plunging to the deepest depths! Not to be helped by a recent 'ex' (that I suspect may have attributes himself) who continually criticizes and does nothing!

• Anonymous said...I completely empathize with all the other mothers out there, and know that the ONLY thing that pulls us through is our love for our children.

• Anonymous said...I am continually in awe and love the exceptional young person that my son is, and am certain he will impact on the world in such a wonderful way as an adult!

• Anonymous said...Yes, Love is so needed by our kids. I have a 13 yr old son with aspergers, although he does not ever want to hear anything is wrong with him. It's everybody else who has the problem. He is constantly baffled why he he constantly gets yelled at by his teachers, has no friends and gets picked on. He never wants to be corrected or given help, he will just yell "I'm perfect, I'm a good boy, why does everyone hate me??" It breaks my heart in pieces. He is so logical and he will not refrain from challenging his teachers and it makes them crazy. Everytime I bring up taking him to see someone for help, he goes ballistic. If we do go, he sits there and refuses to talk. I just don't know what to do anymore. any tips for a frustrated mom?

• Anonymous said...Hello there My name is Peter Caspian And My brother had have very very mild Aspergers and Aspergers Is not a bad thing or the end of the world Aspergers Is A gift a gift of Wonders of being smart/funny/creative/nice/ thats the stuff what aspergers mean but You need to Be nicer to them like treating them as if they were a king to you They can be sad sometimes or if there some thing wrong you cannot see it in them So ask He/she to come over for a cookie for a talk and ask what is wrong It is not their fault for aspergers dont be mean to them

• Anonymous said...Good article, i think the main problem is when people think of intelligence they only think of " mathematical intelligence" and don't understand there are different types of it like emotional intelligence etc. Having good grades or being good at math doesn't make you smart.

• Anonymous said..."'If he is that smart, shouldn't he know better?' The answer to that question is a resounding 'no'. In fact ... these kids cannot 'know better' until they are 'taught' to know and understand." That about sums up my life. ;)

• Anonymous said...I am 17 and have asperger's, my parents see so much in me, I know I'm intelligent, I want to get into college, but whenever I try to do classes like math I just shut down and retreat to my mind, a place where I can see any scenario as if it were happening before my eyes, this is something a lot of people mistake about me, people assume that I'm incapable of doing anything on my own, but I'm not, I run into problems and k get frustrated and block everything out before I can be taught, what I want people who read these to know is that, I do care about myself and I can do these things, but I choose not to a lot of the time because of how I feel when I have a hard time. People don't realize that I do things like spend time listening to Audio books never wanting to get up, or that I want to just use my computer once in up, that I won't take my earphone out when I'm talking to other people, most people don't realize these important factors, that's why so much of the population is convinced that autism and asperger's are the same thing that it's a spectrum, I don't believe in that, I have met two people with autism, one of them I was friends with for a while, there is a night and day difference between autism and asperger's, people always say there the same, but I you saw me, you wouldn't know I had asperger's unless I told you, cause it really only affects me in ways that I can see unless you have been with me for a very very long time.

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