Aspergers: phrasing a question really, really matters!

It has been a while since I have written about Aspergers – even though my posts on Aspergers are, by far, the most popular ones.  This, methinks, speaks to a need for understanding between how the Aspie and neurotypical brains function and for a metaphorical bridge between their functioning.

Hence, this post.

When my older son was assigned the chore of putting away groceries, I had to learn the way his brain classified things in order to find them.  Yet, my older son tended to reason somewhat analogously to me, so it was not that far a stretch for my brain to figure out the underlying rules behind his ‘classifications’ and thus his grouping;putting away of ‘stuff’.

Now that my younger son has reached the age to inherit these chores, my job if figuring out where he would put things is a lot more difficult.

This is not because he is any less or more Aspie than I am:  rather, he tends to organize things in a slightly different way than my own brain does (and, frankly, more similarly to how my Aspie husband’s brain does).  This is not due to any lack of organization, but due to different aspects of objects being seen as their defining quality – if you excuse that turn of phrase.

The upshot of this is that it is much more difficult for me to find things now.

Example:

My older son was very eager to learn my baking skills.  If I bought a package of sugar, it would inevitably be put away with flour and other baking materials.  My younger son ‘earned his stripes’ by making his daddy’s morning coffee – therefore, he associates – and puts away – sugar with coffee/tea supplies and not baking stuff, which holds no interest for him.

To be honest, it took me a few weeks – and a few weekly shopping trips – to figure out this change:  I could not find the sugar, and assumed I had forgotten to purchase it, and kept buying more every week – until my younger son asked where to store the overflow, since the coffee/tea section was just jammed up with sugar…

OK, being an Aspie myself, it takes me a while to adapt to this kind of ‘philosophical’ and organisational change.  This means that I have trouble finding stuff in my own pantry…

However, whenever I would ask my younger son where a particular item would be, he would honestly draw a blank and say he did not know.  Because memory is worse in Aspies than non-Aspies when it comes to rote memory, like where they had put stuff, etc, this actually makes perfect sense:  he had reasoned where the item should go, put it there, and gave it no further thought and thus did not create a memory of where said item was actually stored.

Soon enough, I learned my lesson!

Instead of asking where ‘X’ was, I asked:  “If I were ‘X’, where would you put me?”

This was met with a 100% success rate!

For neurotypicals, this result might be confusing:  How are the two questions so different?  They both ask about the location of a particular item!!!

But, for Aspies, the two questions could not be more different.

As in, they asked the Aspie to use different parts of their brain to answer the question.

“Where is ‘X’?” queries the rote memory of the Aspie – a weak system at best, yet the Aspie will try to remember the act itself of putting it away…with not likely to have effective results.

However, asking an Aspie to recreate the decision-making process that would have them classify the object and, based on the results of this classification, have them choose the proper place to put it – that is a completely different thing!

And, the Aspie will re-create the classification system in their mind (no memory required) and reliably come up with the same place to put said object ‘X’, time after time!

This may seem trivial for non-Aspies – but it makes a world f difference to us as it requires us to use a completely different part of our brain to arrive at the answer:  memory (poor) versus reasoning (strong and replicable).

I hope that explaining this distinction will make sense to you, neurotypicals who read my blog, and that it will help you understand and interact more positively with the Aspies in your life!!!

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3 Responses to “Aspergers: phrasing a question really, really matters!”

  1. kurtcagle Says:

    I think you’ve hit upon something pretty profound here. I’m an information architect, which means that I spend a great deal of time trying to classify things (put them away, in effect), and much of that is tied into the requirements of machine classification processes. Most people are lousy classifiers – they put things away based primarily upon where they have put things away in the past, You and your husband, on the other hand, utilize fairly clear (albeit distinct) categorization systems) each of which are teachable – in computer science terms, you each have a specific ontology of classification, and items are placed in that ontology based upon specific properties and utilizations. When you are reasoning about where something may be located, you are essentially attempting to determine, given an object, which classification schema is being used, and from this determine how it is stored. Given that a large organization may have hundreds of these classification systems (because of data siloization, this is a non-trivial problem, and its interesting to see how this relates to human issues.

  2. peterodonnell Says:

    I store stuff all around the implanted CSIS surveillance device. That way all they can see are labels on packages.

    • xanthippa Says:

      Sometimes, when alone at home, I yell out: “I know you’re listening!” – just so ‘they’ know.


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