Mentally Gifted, Not Disordered

Oct 7, 2013

2240768276_00014882_xlargeDr. Enrico Gnaulati specializes in child and adolescent therapy, assessment, parenting, consultation, couples therapy, and in-depth adult individual therapy.

His most recent book is Back to Normal: Why Ordinary Childhood Behavior is Mistaken for ADHD, Bipolar Disorder, and Autism Spectrum Disorder. He is having a discussion and book signing this Saturday at Hastings Branch Library.

What led to his interest in gifted kids? Direct experience, he says. So many kids and teens showing up to his office where he was conducting psycho-educational testing. When he diagnosed some as gifted, he came to find out that their schools did not see it that way. The children’s disorganized behavior, argumentativeness, spaciness, edginess—”All roads lead to Rome; Rome being a diagnosis typically of ADHD.”

striped girl NEWA study to which Dr. Gnaulati refers says that mentally gifted children can spend one-third to one half of their school day “waiting for the other children to catch up.” Out of boredom, they may speak out, daydream, doodle, or behave in a way that is considered inappropriate. When they are working on something in which they have an interest, it is hard to pull them away. Gifted children have “a tremendous capacity to immerse themselves,” not wanting to stop until every detail is perfect. Because of this, they are often judged to be incapable of taking direction or listening. Dr. Gnaulati would say that they just want to keep doing what they are good at.

A vast number of toddlers present in the doctor’s office with a hodgepodge of social and emotional difficulties, such as poor eye contact, overactivity and underactivity, tantrums, picky eating, quirky interests, or social awkwardness. These phenomena need not be seen as telltale signs of autism spectrum disorder. Sometimes they are merely evidence of a perfect storm of off-beat events in social and emotional development mixed with difficult personality traits—with the upshot that the kid, for the time being, is very out of sorts.

When we mistake a brainy, introverted boy for an autism spectrum disordered one, we devalue his mental gifts. We view his ability to become wholeheartedly engrossed in a topic as a symptom that needs to be stamped out, rather than a form of intellectualism that needs to be cultivated. (

Back to Normal
Saturday, Oct. 12th, 3 p.m.
Hastings Branch Library, 3325 E. Orange Grove Blvd., Pasadena 91107
Free to the public

Editor’s note: quotes taken from a broadcast heard on





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