My son has been a little upset of late because he's realised that he's behind the rest of the class in some areas. I'll cover how I "dealt" with his feelings in another post but for now, I thought it was time for a look at the myth of Aspie Genius.
It's a sad fact of life that not all aspies are geniuses and that the "little professor" tag doesn't apply to everyone. In fact, it's a distinguishing feature of the aspergers diagnostic criteria that the IQ of an aspie is no different to that of a neurotypical.
This doesn't mean that aspies do as well in IQ tests as NTs because often the phraseology in the questions leads to interpretive difficulties (and time delays). It simply means that the aspie ability to "solve" is similar in scope, range and variance to NTs.
What can Adversely Impact Aspie Performance?
If we assume that the IQ is "normal", then it follows that some aspies will be more intelligent than their peers, some less so and most will fall somewhere in the middle. There are performance inhibiting factors across the spectrum which also need to be taken into account;
In terms of school work, this is the big one. Many subjects, particularly "English", rely upon a frame of reference.
I remember struggling with Romeo and Juliet over their illogical and "stupid" (as I wrote in essays then) behaviour. I was a good student but I still had no understanding of their motivation and as a result, I had major issues with the subject in that particular year. It wasn't until years later, with a lot more social development behind me, that it made sense.
It's not just the frame of reference though, quite a bit of the prose in primary school, even the "prose-based" maths questions, gave me trouble. It generally takes me a fair bit longer than most people to understand a question that is put to me - and the delay is much longer for verbal questions than for written ones because verbal questions carry more information to be interpreted; tone and gestures.
I often find that when I'm asked a question, my responses are so slow that people assume that I don't know the answer. In the last decade or so, I've started "false-starting" where I say a few words, then stop, correct, restart, correct, restart etc... It sometimes takes me forever to get a sentence out and I can see my co-workers getting irritated. I've been doing this because people give up and walk away after a bit of silence while false starting at least (usually) keeps them there while I interpret and think.
While an NT could answer a question straight away after hearing it once, my own processes are something similar to the following;
- Hear most of the question
- Pass 2: Re-think and interpret to analyse gaps and "guess words" - this is actually compensating for my deafness, not aspergers. Sometimes this will require several passes - and sometimes it will fail entirely.
- Pass 3: Look for Emotive words and listen to tone.
- Pass 4: Check for facial expression - does it make the picture different?
- Pass 5: Look for "trite phrases" and jokes which need translation/discarding.
- Think about the answer
- Wrap the answer in "user-friendly words"
- Check answer for over-technicality based on an evaluation of the recipient's capabilities.
- Screen out and replace any words which could have double-meanings or could be interpreted wrongly - this includes generalisations, eg: words like "always"
By the time I've done all this, the person has usually walked away.
Focus and Interest
Aspies have quite restricted interests and it's quite difficult for us to concentrate on things outside of that sphere of interest. It's not rudeness, it's a built-in factor. Just as the male brain allegedly thinks about sex every 7 seconds, so to our aspie brains are constantly flicking back to our special interests whether we like it or not. It's like trying to watch TV with someone who keeps "checking another channel" every few minutes. It's amazing that we can concentrate on anything other than our special interests.
I work in the financial sector, with computers and I have a special interest in computing. I've been in my current position for ten years and I still have trouble with the most basic concepts like the differences between invoices and receipts because I can't get them through my "blinkers". The same applied to me at school and unless I could find a way to tie subjects back to my special interests, I couldn't focus.
My wife often gets upset with me when I try to speed up her conversations - after all, it's not fair, she listens to me and I'm a wordy, drawn out sort of person. After all these years, she still sees my "hurry up" gestures or "...and the point is..." prompting to be rude. I know it's rude and I don't do it lightly - I do it when I feel like I'm starting to lose focus. It would probably be better if she were to take a quick break until my interest returns - I don't know.
All I know is that it's a choice between a "hurry up" prompt, something that seems quite rude on the surface or a mental shutdown where I let her continue talking but take nothing onboard. The latter doesn't appear quite so rude but I feel personally that it's worse because I'm not listening at all.
This sort of thing affects me in lots of areas - yes, even at work. Sometimes when a meeting strays too far from things I need to start drawing or writing frantically just to keep myself in focus. I even avoid a lot of team meetings which I feel may be significantly off-topic because my behaviour would probably be too distracting to the other participants.
Aspergers seems to be a condition which doesn't often appear on its own. Often, it appears in the company of one or more co-conditions (comorbids). Each of these comorbids could stand as a condition in itself but often it's a "lite" version that combines itself with aspergers;
- Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)
- Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Dyspraxia (Clumsiness)
- Tourette’s Syndrome
- Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Bipolar Disorder
Not all Aspies have comorbid conditions but the numbers are amazingly high with ADHD in particular showing in 62% of cases according to some studies. These factors considerably impact the academic abilities of aspergers children.
You can find more information on these comorbid conditions here.
What can Positively Impact Aspie Performance?
It wouldn't be a balanced topic without a look at some of the things which can tip the scales in academic circles;
The Special Interest
There is simply no underestimating the power of the special interest. It's the key to aspie behaviour and success. As parents, you have a duty to not only know your children's special interests but also to accept and relate to them. Nothing else will put you into your child's life in quite the same way.
It's disconcerting how often I hear of parents and teachers trying to discourage the special interest "for the good of the child" without any real understanding of the impact they may be having. My own parents and teachers "banned" me from borrowing Doctor Who books from our school library because I was "reading the same series" all the time. As a result, I completely stopped reading any of the books in our school library although I still "borrowed" to keep them happy. Instead I started saving up and buying the books. Today, aged 40, I've got 531 Doctor Who books and I'm still reading them.
You should never attempt to block the special interest unless it's clearly dangerous. Examples of dangerous special interests I've observed in the aspergers community include; guns, toilets/feces, pornography, extreme religion and self mutilation. I get the feeling that parents would complain less about their child's extreme interest in a trivial thing, like stamps, if they knew what alternatives were available.
The way forward with special interests is to find ways to tie it into your child's schoolwork. This can range from including it in maths, history and english work to offering it as rewards for completed work. The scope will change considerably depending upon the interests in question - hopefully your child's interests will be wide enough to have a lot of dimensions you can exploit.
There are a lot of academic advantages to being different many of which come out in creative works. There's a myth that aspies aren't creative which is, I think, a misinterpretation of the aspie lack of shared creative-play with other children.
Aspies are very capable in terms of general creativity and imagination. This can come through obviously in stories, poetry and artwork. It also comes across much less obviously in other areas. For some aspies, creativity can occur in mathematics, where complex patterns take on a meaning of their own. Sometimes it's in mechanics, electronics or other disciplines.
It's important to remember that just because your child isn't doing things "the right way", it doesn't mean that they're doing them "the wrong way". It's simply a case of doing things differently. If it weren't for aspies doing things differently, we wouldn't have the plethora of scientific discoveries and innovation made by (suspected) apies such as Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein.