Autism, High IQ & the Glorification of Suffering

Martika Theis is a recent graduate of the University of Iowa. As an undergraduate, Martika worked as a research assistant at the Belin-Blank Center’s Assessment and Counseling Clinic, where she nurtured a passion for helping twice-exceptional students like herself. She was identified as gifted after second grade and diagnosed with autism when she was a senior in high school. She hopes other 2e students can receive better educational support than she did.

Theis has spoken about her experiences as a twice-exceptional person with NPR News and as part of the Summit on the Neuroscience of Twice-Exceptionality, co-hosted by the Belin-Blank Center and the Iowa Neuroscience Institute. Her current special interests include reading, writing, cybersecurity, fanfiction, and video-game storytelling. She will be a student panelist at the Stanford Neurodiversity Summit in November.

The author recently chatted with Theis about her personal and professional journey with twice-exceptionality.

Danika Maddocks: Recent research found that high IQ was associated with higher levels of anxiety and emotional distress for autistic youth. Can you briefly describe your experience of being a high-IQ autistic person as it relates to anxiety or emotional distress, if relevant? From your perspective, how are these different aspects of your experience related to one another, if at all? Do the research findings resonate with you?

Martika Theis: I have dealt with a great deal of anxiety and emotional distress connected with being a high-IQ autistic person, and most of it occurred in academic settings. I was one of the unfortunate 2e children whose giftedness obscured their disability, so while I was identified as gifted and talented after se...


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About Danika Maddocks

Danika Maddocks earned her Ph.D. in school psychology from the University of Texas at Austin. Prior to her doctoral studies, Danika taught elementary and middle school and trained other educators. She researches giftedness, twice-exceptionality, intelligence, assessment, and the role of motivation and emotion in teaching and learning. Danika provides therapy and consultation services in private practice; learn more about her research and private practice at You can also sign up for her mailing list.