**trigger warning for self harm, suicide, mentions of emotional abuse***
There aren’t many posts (that I’ve seen) that talk about what happens when you are Autistic and people label you gifted, or a savant, or a prodigy, or any other terms similar to those. So, I’m going to talk about it, but here’s a quick disclaimer:
I wholeheartedly believe that IQ is inaccurate and discriminates against those who are not verbal, do not come from a background which provides typical academic education (i.e., those who live in poverty), and those whose skills lie outside of the bounds of spatial, verbal, auditory processing, and written comprehension. I also believe that labels such as savant, gifted, and prodigy are often used in an elitist manner to say that “these Autistics are okay because they can do ___ and have contributed heavily to society in a manner deemed profitable and/or productive"or are otherwise misapplied by outsiders to discredit those who are on the spectrum but are verbal or deemed of higher intelligence. That being said, this is an account of my personal experiences and beliefs and these viewpoints do not ring true for everyone.
So. My original diagnosis was Aspergers Syndrome, which is the exact same thing as Autism, the only difference in criteria is that those diagnosed with Aspergers Servers and not Autism were verbal before age three. This diagnosis was later re classified as Autism spectrum disorder after the publication of the DSM-V.
As a child, I spoke very early on. I mean, I was speaking full sentences by the time I was two. One of the things I remember is my fascination with colors. I memorized all of the crayola crayon names, and when I went to daycare as a little toddler we would all go over colors. But when the lady pointed out colors and all of the other kids would say “red” or “blue,” I’d say “burnt sienna” or “turquoise” or something more specific for each hue. I LOVED colors, and coloring, even if I did do it outside of the lines.
My parents noticed Autistic traits very early on with me as well. I didn’t socialize with other children, I played off by myself. I cried and screamed when certain smells, tastes, or clothing entered my environment. I had horrible meltdowns where I would become a danger to myself: I’d pull out my hair, or bang my head on a wall, or claw at myself. I had echolalia as well; teachers and kids would get mad at me because I kept making cat noises or repeating things over and over. I had such a hard time holding pencils and writing that I had to get special permission to type my assignments. I actually could not read until second grade, because i couldn’t put sounds with letters on a page. So all of these things led my parents to taking me to several psychologists and specialists, after which I received my diagnosis.
When I got older, academics became more important. I was a very curious child, and I loved to learn. My interests were strange for my age, I was fascinated by microbiology and diseases and insects and animals. I learned names of bacteria and their different strains, I watched videos on different species of spiders, I learned about diseases and medical conditions, which I memorized. I was prone to infodumping on unsuspecting strangers (my favorite story about that is a cashier in Publix who offered me hand sanitizer while my mom was paying for groceries. I looked at her very gravely, and starting warning her about the dangers of stapholoccocus and streptoloccocus, and how important it is to wash your hands and clean open wounds. My mom finally told me that that was enough, but the cashier thought it was the neatest thing ever. Fun fact: she went on to become best friends with my mother, and they keep in touch to this day.)
In third grade, people started to notice that I was ahead of other kids my age in acedemics. I was given my first IQ test, just to see where I was. I didn’t know it was an IQ test at the time, but I took it. I found out the results years later: at age nine, I had an IQ of 136.
Everyone labelled me gifted, prodigy, etc. It felt nice, encouraging even, to an Autistic kid who kept getting picked on or slammed around and ostracized by the other students. But it started a cycle that I didn’t recognize until many years later.
When I got to high school, I was awarded all sorts of things relating to standardized test scores and academic achievement. They gave me another IQ test at 16, and by that time my IQ was 146.
With all of this however, I still faced difficulties related to my Autism, amplified by ignorant teachers and school officials.
I can’t drive, and I had a very hard time in math and science because of my spatial and visual processing disability, and I had a hard time writing and copying from the board because of my impaired fine motor skills along with the aforementioned disability. I also had (still have) problems talking aloud to other students or teachers, due to severe anxiety, and also following verbal directions (which got me into several less than savory situations regarding my commitment to class and my supposed lack of self advocacy. Ironically, I had an IEP which required teachers, by federal law, to comply with accommodations, including printing all directions and assignments and clarifying these things with me after class. Every time they broke that law, it was blamed on my lack of advocacy, or initiative. Even when I called for meetings, or spoke up for myself, or informed teachers repeatedly of my IEP and disability. Several teachers flat out refused to follow it and said that it was just a disciplinary issue. Others asked what would happen to me in college, in “the real world,” to which my mother retorted that I would always need some level of assistance and that they should be ashamed for trying to frighten her kid like that, like everyone was just going to abandon me in adulthood.)
I had severe problems with self esteem and self worth. I always accused people of lying when they said I was special or smart. My main issue though, was that i felt like if I wasn’t deemed smart or gifted, that I would just be broken and everyone would toss me aside and hurt me, at least, more than they already had in the past. I grew up thinking that I was obligated to redeem myself, to “make up” for being Autistic. I thought that “gifted” was the only worthwhile thing about me.
My mental health worsened too. I had started cutting and burning myself in middle school, it got worse as I got older. I starved myself in high school. I had tried to kill myself twice by the time I turned 16, and was rushed to the ER after a violent meltdown which resulted in a deep wound on my arm that required 7 stitches.
All of this could be traced back to feeling like I was, well, a piece of shit. And to the emotional abuse I endured at the hands of teachers, and the things kids did to me to mess with me, the things people whispered about me, the way they looked at me, the way my parents looked at each other. The ignorance and cruelty of people around me. Their unwillingness to listen to me, to accommodate me. Their willingness to turn away in the midst of hatred and prejudice. I began to hate them.
On bad days, I want to give up trying to explain all of this and Autism and just resign myself to the fact that nobody will ever accept and accomodate me the way I am, much less love me. I say I should just accept that I’ll probably always be at the mercy of other people, I’ll probably be abused all over again. I tell myself I’m better than them anyway, that I’m gifted and they aren’t. I try and fail to believe that lie. Those days…I try to just hide in my house and stay silent.
But the worst part of all of this, was that whenever I tried to talk about any I’d it, about “gifted” being used to ignore an obvious disability, I’d get dismissed as high functioning, or I’d be reprimanded for being ungrateful for my talents.
I got labelled gifted, and suddenly it didn’t feel like a compliment anymore, but a threat. A disavowal. Shackles of an obligation to be normal, but also smart enough to be beneficial to society, to make up for all the things they have to deal with to accommodate me.
Now, I think that “gifted” is such a flat way of looking at things. I think that it only serves to label someone high functioning, so the people in charge can ignore any of their inaccessibility or ignorance when confronted by the person being hurt by it. I think that gifted is too often used as a measure of value, and is too often misaligned with merit. What about creativity? Dedication? Perseverance? Kindness? Open-mindedness? The most important qualities have no ruler to measure by.
I think “gifted” can go die in a hole. I’m not gifted. I’m ME. I’m curious, I’m dedicated, I’m strongwilled, I’m defiant, I’m kind, I’m compassionate, and I’m Autistic. And I make no apologies.