We, Aspies, each have our own, individual way of learning. However, in my online searches of how the Aspie brain differs from others, I have come across a few things that might be helpful when designing a learning strategy for an Aspie.
These things create an environment that helps Aspies learn:
- CLEAR GOAL – having a plan worked out (especially with the Aspie’s help) with very clear, specific goals to be achieved in each learning session and in the overall plan clearly posted or otherwise available for the Aspie to see.
- CLEAR EXPECTATIONS – before a learning session is started, the Aspie knows what will be the task, what goal will be achieved and how it will be achieved. This is very important to Aspies – no surprises, changes in routine, and so on – even if other people cannot understand why.
- CLEAR PROGRESS – clearly indicating progress within each session, as well as the progress each session makes towards the overall goal is very, very comforting and motivating for us, Aspies.
- CONSISTENT ENVIRONMENT – it may be corny, but having a ‘special place’ with ‘special tools’ used only for learning – even if it is just a simple tray with the ‘special tools’ that gets brought out for the study session and put onto the dining room table or coffee table, etc. – can be comforting and help an Aspie get into the ‘right frame of mind’ for learning. It is the ‘little ritual’ of ‘getting down to studying’ which helps the Aspie mind ‘settle’.
- ENGAGEMENT -whatever motivator is used, the Aspie must want to succeed – or the whole exercise is pointless.
Yet, no learning environment will be effective if the method of learning is one that the Aspie cannot master.
Many of the studies I have read have found that Aspies have very poor memory – as in, rote memory. We are much, much worse at it than our peers of comparable intelligence. We are even worse at remembering things ‘in order’. (As in, if a person is shown a list of words, objects or numbers and is then requested to repeat or identify them in the same order as originally presented – Aspies rate so low, it is unbelievable.)
(Aside: this does not mean that an Aspie cannot benefit from improving their rote memory – to the contrary! But, that will have to be a separate post of its own… What it does mean is that forcing an Aspie to rely on memory for learning is setting him/her up for failure, with all the emotional baggage this carries.)
Therefore, any system of learning which will rely on memorizing or sequencing or any such thing is setting an Aspie up for failure. Be it multiplication tables or spelling/reading/writing or vocabulary or history dates – using this approach will only lead the Aspie to conclude that they are stupid and that there is no point in trying….and the Aspie will work hard to avoid these tasks, or simply refuse to perform them altogether. This is because the internal pain of having it reinforced that ‘they are incompetent’, ‘not performing up to expectations’ and so on is so great, no amount of punishment would be worse for the Aspie. The Aspie will either appear unwilling or unable…
This can be frustrating! For everyone involved.
However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel!
These same studies show that Aspies are much better than their peers at remembering things they ‘figure out on their own’. This is very, very important – and supports the whole ‘Aspies like rules’ thing!
This is just my little hypothesis, no more than that. Yet, I think the facts fit… One major ‘coping mechanism’ Aspies develop to compensate for poor ‘reteniton’ using ‘memory’ is to use ‘understanding’ instead.
And what a coping mechanism! By understanding, instead of remembering, Aspies do not learn about a subject, they learn the subject!
Aspies like rules because when we analyze something, breaking it down into small components ‘according to rules’ helps us ‘figure it out’. That is when ‘understanding’ (or ‘comprehension’) happens. It has certainly been my personal experience: I went to study Physics, because it was the only subject where I did not have to remember anything! I could (and usually did) derive each and every equation I needed from first principles – which I understood, and therefore did not have to remember.
Many Aspies (especially male Aspies) are attracted to the science and technology fields, because this is one area of learning where ‘understanding’ is much more important to success than ‘memorizing’. Here, the ‘coping mechanism’ gives Aspies an edge over others!
Everyone is familiar with the description of the ‘young Aspie’ as ‘a little professor’, where large amounts of information are absorbed and retained. How can this be achieved without a good memory?
As the Aspie learns new information, it is ‘figured out’ – what each bit means, how it fits into this ‘field’ or ‘subject-matter’. It is not so much ‘memorized’ as it is ‘absorbed into the framework of understanding’ of that subject matter. So, it is not ‘memory’ but ‘understanding’ that the Aspie uses to learn so much about so little!
Test it for yourself. If an Aspie were to be simply ‘memorizing’ new information about a favorite subject, they will only be able to answer the questions that are directly answered by quotes from the new information. Yet, I am willing to bet that if you do try this little experiment, the Aspie will have – after a single read – integrated all that is contained in the new information into everything else they know about the subject. Their young mind will have cross-referenced, catalogued and analyzed all the new information as it is being read. The answers they’ll give will be at a much deeper level of understanding than simple memorization would permit. (Aside: this also explains why Aspies often have a difficulty citing their source for specific facts – all the information is ‘fused’ into the common ‘understanding’ as it is absorbed and not really ‘stored’ separately.)
This suggests that ‘figuring out’/’understanding’/’comprehension’ are essential to a successful learning strategy of an Aspie.