An Open Letter to Friends About Our Son’s Autism & Giftedness Diagnosis

As you may remember, we recently found out that our daughter, Isabella, has ADHD and is Gifted. (If you missed it, you can read that post here: An Open Letter to Friends and Family About Our Daughter’s ADHD & Giftedness Diagnosis). Well, at the same time, we were working on getting Hunter diagnosed, as well, at the request of his school.

What we found out didn’t really shock us at all, although I was surprised at how hard it hit me when it was confirmed…..

For teachers, friends and family, a lot of signs pointed out that Hunter wasn’t the same as his peers. His teacher confirmed a lot of things that we were wondering about Hunter: he didn’t seem social or care about having friends, he expressed himself with actions rather than facial expressions, and he seemed obsessed with certain topics (even at school).

We went to our pediatrician and she confirmed that more testing was necessary. Flash forward almost a year and we spent some time at the Children’s Development Centre in Calgary, having Hunter tested further.

(A million appointments is my life, now and forever).

What we found out we heavily suspected, anyway.

Hunter has high-functioning autism (formerly known as Aspergers) and is highly gifted.

The psychologist at the CDC gave us a lot of resources to look into and support systems to check into. Honestly, we are still overwhelmed by the amount of information in the diagnosis and are still processing.

Let’s Talk About Autism

The good news is that Hunter is very good at mimicking acceptable behaviour, as well as taking advice. The psychologist explained that, due to his intelligence and great observation skills, he should be able to do what is socially acceptable and be fine later on in school or at a job, over time and with some help. He is such a rule follower that the teacher was able to get him to socialize politely by telling him what is expected and telling him it’s “the rule” at school.

The psychologist explained that Hunter will have to learn social cues, acceptable tone of voice and facial cues the same way that some people struggling with Math pass Calculus- by studying with a tutor or behaviourist and learning it over time. He doesn’t care about what you care about- he cares about what he wants to learn. Which, for him, is the World Wars, the history of the Disney company, and nanotechnology.

I am still learning a lot about high-functioning autism and some of Hunter’s “tics”, but I will update here often. Here are some myths that should be shattered, though, as seen on IG:

Hunter does do some classic autistic things. He lines up his toys, sorting them by size or colour. If you move them, he will tap his temples and repeat over and over, “You moved them.” He will give you the same greeting or bedtime message and repeat it until you reply in the way he expected. For example, every single night he says, “Good night, I hope you sleep well”, to which he expects you to reply, “Thank you. I hope you sleep well, too”.

Hunter is in love with routine and will have meltdowns (which can be different from tantrums, as outlined HERE) if his routine is disrupted without warning. Meltdowns can also happen for seemingly no reason. Although, most of the time, Hunter is a rare case where he shuts down rather than freaks out. When Hunter gets really quiet and in his head, then I have to worry sometimes, because it may lead to hitting himself or a meltdown- or he may just stay really unresponsive for minutes to hours.

He also has the classic autistic trait of only liking clothing with soft textures and no labels. He recently started ballet, and he loves the cotton shirt and black leggings so much that he begged me to buy him two more to wear all the time.

Hunter loves “hard” touches with a lot of pressure, rather than soft touching and will get my attention by leaning hard against me or on me. He can be very blunt in conversations and hates noise. Playdates aren’t on his list of things to do, at all, and he has trouble “seeing” people’s features. He often calls friends by the wrong name and claims they all “look the same”. (They don’t). Once you leave the room, you don’t exist, essentially.

So that is what I’ve learned so far about my interesting boy. We have always known he isn’t like his peers and have often wondered why. High-functioning autism makes sense as a diagnosis. Especially since, ever since he could talk, Josh and I have seen autistic characters in TV shows that reminded us of Hunter. Max in Parenthood and Sam in Atypical stood out for us. In fact, if you want to see what Hunter will most likely be like as a teen, watch Atypical. Hunter is Sam.

The psychologist we saw at CDC explained that Hunter probably wasn’t flagged as autistic sooner because of his high verbal skills and extremely high intelligence. He can see how people respond to neurotypical kids and will mimic that behaviour if he desires the same response. When he is being himself, I often get people describing him to me as a “weird old soul” or “odd” or “a formal 90 year old in an 8 year old body”.

Hunter is very highly gifted, scoring in the 99th percentile in most categories. As I said in my post about Isabella, “giftedness” is a bit of a misnomer.

Let’s Talk About the Term Gifted.

I’m just going to reiterate what I said on the other blog post, for you, here:

Giftedness

It affects only 2% of the population. There are a lot of misconceptions that this is our “golden ticket” and that it’s neat and tidy- tied with a bow. But it’s not. It’s messy, worrying and hard to parent because of something called “asynchronous development”. Asynchronous development is defined as follows:

Asynchronous development refers to an uneven intellectual, physical, and emotional development. … The gifted child’s intellectual development can be more advanced than her physical and emotional development, which progress at a different rate”  (VeryWell Family)

Put another way:

“Giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm. This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity. The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching and counseling in order for them to develop optimally.” (The Columbus Group, 1991).

Gifted kids appear to be “many ages at once” and can be very emotionally intense and sensitive. Her mind and cognitive function are that of a teen but she has younger emotions. In moments, gifted kids can go from having a mature, intellectual conversation with you, to a tantrum, because her favourite snack is gone. This is because their body houses thoughts the emotions can’t process (and that peers can’t understand). An example of emotional intensity would be losing sleep over the effects of climate change and worrying that we are going the way of the dinosaurs- slowly extinct.

A blogger said it best when she broke it down this way:

“Parenting asynchronous kids can be challenging for a number of reasons, including:

  • You never know what age you’re going to get in a given situation. On any given day, I experience a plethora of ages from my son and it can change from minute to minute. We can have an amazing, mature, and thought-provoking conversation one minute and then in the next moment he can throw a fit to rival that of any 2-year-old.
  • You must deal with expectations and judgment from others.
  • When your 5-year-old converses like a 15-year-old, folks often expect more of him. The reality is, he’s still very much five and that can be difficult for others to wrap their mind around. Teachers, coaches, and other individuals may mistakenly expect more out of your precocious little one.
  • You find yourself constantly explaining this child to others, and you are relentlessly advocating for his needs. It can be challenging to find friends, activities, books, media, etc. that meet your child’s unique needs.” 
  • (Source: https://ihomeschoolnetwork.com/parenting-gifted-asynchronous-kids/, Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley)

Also-

Giftedness and achievement are not the same thing. Many gifted kids balk and become upset when challenged, even when the ability is there. A teacher would never give a gifted student extra work because of the special and unique way their brains are wired. For example, if asked to look up, “What do gorillas eat?”, they would look up “How changes to habitat is affecting what food sources are available” and then get frustrated at the quantity of information they’re being “forced” to write down. It isn’t because they’re trying to do extra work, but, because that’s how the question makes sense to them.

For Hunter, it makes it hard for him to want to do work that he doesn’t see as immediately useful. He often questions WHY they’re learning something or is correcting the teacher.

This is just a quick blog post to update you on what we have learned so far. We are working on getting support for Hunter and information for ourselves.

The combination of traits makes Hunter a 2E kid, which is also where Isabella falls. What is 2E, or “twice-exceptional”. Most of what I learned, initially, I learned from the My Little Poppies website. She is also a mom of 2E kids and homeschools, so was a good first resource.

If you are struggling with what 2E means, I’ve found some sites that may help:


  1. https://sethperler.com/child-2e-twice-exceptional-ultimate-guide/

  2. https://childmind.org/article/twice-exceptional-kids-both-gifted-and-challenged/

  3. https://www.understood.org/en/friends-feelings/empowering-your-child/building-on-strengths/7-myths-about-twice-exceptional-2e-students

I will keep you updated as we learn more and I welcome questions and comments!

If you’re a parent of a 2E kid, I would love to hear your story! DM me or comment below. 🙂

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1 Comment

  • There is a Difference: Tantrums vs. Meltdowns • Babbling Panda 2019-08-16 at 12:14

    […] It took me years to realize that we should have outgrown tantrums by now. How did I not notice that stories of younger kids freaking out were the most relatable to me? Then, I was told about the difference between meltdowns and tantrums and something clicked. When I did research and found out that autistic kids often experience meltdowns, I started to wonder if our little “tell it like it is, never social, old soul” boy has autism. And, he did. (You can read the diagnosis HERE). […]

    Reply

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