I get asked all the time about what it's like to live with Asperger's. Some illustrations.
Illustration #1, literal thinking
4A loves to draw, as I think I've mentioned before. It's her "thing." All Aspies have a "thing" (you've probably heard about the stereotypical boy Aspie specialized interest in transportation). Since 1st grade, we have had to use immediate and long-term reinforcers to curb 4A's desire to doodle in class, either on herself, her notebooks, her desk, whatever.
For 3 YEARS, we have worked on this, mostly with a good deal of success.
So, imagine my surprise last week when she walked in the door from school having gotten a ticket for doodling in class. Me: "What happened? You know the rule about doodling in school."
(I interject for one minute to remind you that we have had the following conversation: Me, "Why did you doodle?" Her, "I was bored." Me, "What's the rule about doodling?" Her, "It's not allowed." Me, "What's the rule about doodling when you aren't bored?" Her, "I can't." Me, "What's the rule about doodling when you are bored?" Her, "I can't"--this is WELL covered territory, friends.)Back to the most recent issue. I ask what happened, she said, "The magazine said to make doodle school." Me, "What?" Her, she doesn't say a word. She marches right over to her backpack and pulls out an American Girl Magazine that she checked out of the school library. She flips it open to this page.
Me: "Great. How did that idea work for you?" Her, "Pretty good for awhile but then I got busted." Me, "So, what have you learned from this?" Her (in her deadpan, monotone, Aspie best voice), "Never to listen to an idea in a dumb magazine."
And, there you have it. Dr. Steve's response, "I love it!!!! She is such a poster child for Asperger's at times!"
Illustration #2, concrete thinking
As I mentioned the other day, a 4A off of supports at school looks like a shitty student, looks like someone who either doesn't know the information or isn't following directions. In reality, she has memorized every single solitary thing they've told her AND she lacks the neurological typicality to make inferential or abstract thoughts. If there is a yes or no answer to what you want to know, she'll nail it. If you want more than yes or no, you're going to have to tell her specifically what you want from her or you're going to just get yes or no. A case in point. (And, the teacher who gave her this test DOES use supports, but she had to chuckle after giving her this when she realized how literal 4A really is...she needs the support every single time because inferential thinking is not something she does spontaneously or organically; she can, however, mimic it with the right supports).
A recent reading test. Please notice, as you scroll through that she got every single multiple choice question right. No inferential thinking required here, so of course she did! Please notice which answers she got wrong: those that required inferential thinking or explanation without a specific prompt.
Bam! In question 10, she was asked to INFER what was most likely to happen next. She's off in left field, of course. Teacher tries to help her out by telling her to look back at the pictures. Minna was falling asleep in the picture. If she was falling asleep, how on earth would it be likely that she'd wake up and play the piano?!? Now, if this question had said, "Look at the picture on page X. Even though the story doesn't say what happened, look at the picture to see which of these makes sense as a next step in the story," she would've had a better shot at it.
This is fantastic! She was only asked to state what she knows. Now, we all know (NT as we are) what the teacher meant here. She meant that we were to extrapolate from the story what we learned based on what happened in the story, e.g., what was the moral lesson at play here? Two problems here for 4A. (1) Morals are SOCIAL constructs. A NT can read a story and know right away the moral point of the story. For example, in "The Boy Who Cried Wolf," all NT readers will realize that it's not a good idea to cry for help unless you're really in trouble. An Aspie probably won't realize that right off without some good scaffolding because it's addressing a SOCIAL issue. (2) The teacher didn't ask for what she wanted. Inferentially, most NT kids knew she wanted to know about the moral of the story, but she didn't say that. Literal creature that 4A is, she didn't know that because the test didn't say that. So, a simple rewrite of the question here, like "what is the lesson you learned from the story," might have helped, but again, we're talking about a social issue at play in the story. Chances are, because of neurological social impairment, 4A missed it.
Illustration #3, literal thinking
This is a great one. A couple of years old, but a fantastic illustration that, for an Aspie, words have meaning.
Read these questions carefully.
When this came home in 1st grade and I asked Dr. Steve about it, he said what I had immediately thought. "Well, she's right. That is the point of reading an article. And, if the teacher wanted her to restate the question or use the graph, she could've said so, and 4A would've been able to answer it."
If you want her to answer something, you better be careful how you write it. Had question 1 said "What would someone learn about the grey wolf population in the U.S. after reading this article," 4A would've had a better shot at it. And, if she had been told to restate the question, she might have. And, if you want her to explain her answer with the graph, you better tell her that or you're just gonna get yes or no.
Now, I appreciate that most of the children figured this out on their own, largely because they reviewed this as a class several times. Most of those children are NT and don't have autism. 4A does. She knows the information, but if you want it in a specific format, you're going to have to be exactingly clear about how you want it. Dr. Steve describes it like this: "She knows the teacher knows the answer and that the teacher knows that she knows the answer. So, for her, what's the point of this redundancy?"
Grades are not something that are important in this house. Grades are not a reflection of who we are as people, how hard we try, or how smart we are. What matters in this house is how hard you tried and how well you listened. Did you listen to the direction, and do your best to follow it? That's the litmus test here. So, the grades on these tests are irrelevant. BUT, what happens when tests like these come home is that the teacher becomes frustrated with 4A. The teacher has explained it (or not), and it was clear to everyone else. So, 4A looks like a pain in the ass or a reluctant worker or a minimalist or oppositional. The issue really isn't 4A and her skills but rather the way in which information is presented. She actually does know what they want her to know. If she is asked about the information in a way that supports her neurological deficits, she is compliant and accurate and a "good" student and "smart." Left to her own devices without supports, she appears the opposite.
It can feel like a CONSTANT work against the grain, but she'll get it. She'll eventually learn to mimic what it is that they want her to do, but can you imagine how frustrating and exhausting that is for her?