Giftedness and disabilities can coexist

There’s a quote I really like: “If the purpose for learning is to score well on a test, we’ve lost sight of the real reason for learning.” (by Jeannie Fulbright)

Similarly, I think it’s also true that “if the only definition of giftedness is being able to score well on tests, we’ve lost sight of the real definition of giftedness.”

Test scores are easily quantifiable, but it is important to note that there are many qualitative aspects of giftedness that are not easily quantifiable. Examples of these attributes include:

  • having the ability to connect with the essence of others
  • having a charismatic nature that readily captivates and attracts others
  • demonstrating creative thought and ability
  • having asynchronous development which causes simultaneous elevated strengths and areas of weakness
  • having heightened sensitivities to the world, and experiencing intensity in many aspects of life

Annamarie Roeper said that “giftedness is based on emotions as well as cognition” and she developed the Qualitative Assessment Method to identify gifted children based solely on observation.

That brings me to Benjamin…

Benjamin is a senior in high school, and he has autism. He is highly capable, and has a captivating presence. He is a public speaker who talks frequently about living with autism. I have seen him present a number of times and I continue to be amazed on so many levels. His mother has provided incredible attention and painstakingly worked to help Benjamin manage his differences.

This constant process and unyielding message of love is beautifully described in her new book, Benjamin Breaking Barriers: Autism – A Journey of Hope. She asked me to review her book, and in doing so, I was continuously impressed with her descriptions of Benjamin’s behavior and thought. I highlighted dozens of quotes that read like they were in a book illustrating a gifted child rather than a child with autism.

For all of us who work with students with disabilities it is important to be mindful of the fact that many of these same students may also be gifted in some areas. This is an example of significant asynchrony. Gifted children identify themselves, and so do “twice exceptional” children. We just have to know what we’re looking for. Benjamin is a perfect example of an individual who has significant learning and processing disabilities, while at the same time is convincingly functioning with significant strengths.

Focusing on his strengths is where Benjamin will make a meaningful life for himself, and make a difference to others. This is his purpose.

Benjamin posted this on Facebook:
Happy New Year, everyone! I’ve learned something interesting: people are calling me “twice exceptional.” The term means that, in addition to having autism, I also have some real gifts. Terry Bradley, the TAG (Talented and Gifted) specialist at my school has been super supportive, and I appreciate her identifying me as being “gifted.” Please read my latest blog entry, “Giftedness and Autism.” Find it at


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