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Why Being Labeled an Autistic Genius Often Isn't a Good Thing

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I never really liked the false narrative of genius — the idea that people are either born intelligent or not. As a child, you aspire to things, aspire to “genius” aspire to “success,” aspire to be “special.” I wanted to be cool and to offer something unique — if I could make myself be perceived by other children as “cool.”

However, genius is the ultimate be careful what you wish for. Genius is a great fallacy. As an autistic, it is assumed that I as an adult fall into one of two categories. I am expected to either be too foolish to understand basic conversation, or I am compared to Sheldon Cooper.

My personal relation to the idea of intelligence is strange. I have a staggered IQ, meaning I score very superior in language. However, my basic skills which I would need to keep me alive are below average. My autism makes me hyperlexic. I pay the price, however, in my social skills. I am used as a weapon against my peers.

People say some of my disabled peers are less intelligent or less functioning. It’s false. Especially the idea of bookish intelligence being the only valid kind of intelligence. There is emotional intelligence, social intelligence, instinctual intelligence, artistic intelligence. There isn’t just one type. Why do we devalue people based on intelligence? What value does that hold? It’s pointless.

For “genius” to have any use, you also need social popularity as a platform. To be a genius and unknown is possible and is usually the case. However, what we equate with “genius” is incredibly rare — what we usually equate with genius is being gifted and having good P.R. The truth of the matter is, most of us finish work quickly go on our phones, and get scolded for being problem students/workers, when really we had just finished the task already.

The truth is, the fetishization of disabled geniuses, twice-exceptional learners, and gifted students causes a lot of harm.

Here’s what isn’t discussed:

  • Being twice exceptional, also called being gifted and disabled, is linked to high stress and emotional pain.
  • It’s frustrating living at a time in the world right now. A time painted in trauma and blood. Yet at a time people should be standing in unity and solidarity with the goal of physical, mental, emotional, and cultural protection for all people. Instead, people go as far as to destroy themselves so they can destroy others. Destroying traditions, languages, and knowledge so a piece of the world story is lost.
  • If you are twice exceptional, it’s hard to slow your brain down. It’s constant overthinking.
  • It’s having a memory that makes it nearly impossible to forget including all the sad, cruel, and painful things.
  • Connection with other people is hard. They will keep trying to sort you into a category that makes sense to them because they cannot comprehend conflicting identities.
  • It’s being smart enough to sign up for honors classes but being too afraid to because it will give you more anxiety.
  • It is a fear of both success and failure at the same time.

We glorify genius and giftedness but don’t often show the downside:

  • People feel entitled to you, your effort, and your work. Yet disrespect your peers and community.


Getty image by Witthaya Prasongsin.

Originally published: January 4, 2022
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