We had an interesting conversation with a few people last month. We were learning the different perspectives on what type of information is easily consumable. The difference between abstract concepts and logic. Math or numbers versus creativity.
Many of the autisitic people we have met in our life thrive in the logical sectors. Math, numbers, computer coding come easily to them. They enjoy technology and puzzles. Things that fit together make sense to them. However, we don’t operate that way.
In our mind, math is a large ogre ready to consume us and coding is like looking at a million puzzle pieces of the same color expecting for them to fit together. We can’t grasp it quickly. We started a Udemy coding course. We found the platform user friendly with captions and print outs, but when it came to actually completing the courses, we are still on Day 1. To date, we are still trying to understand the lessons.
Coding is logic. We are logical, but not when it comes to numbers. We thrive on abstract concepts, theories of space and time, quantum mechanics, social issues, and problem solving complex issues. In coding there is only 1 right answer which is why it works well for some people on the spectrum. However for us, it causes chaos because we cannot just think in the form of one answer.
Imagine you have a bowl of fruit. Someone tells you to pull out all the oranges. You may look down and see the variety and select the oranges. You take out five of them and place them on the table. For us, we can see the five oranges, the table and the chair to the left, the empty bowl on the right side of the table, the open door in the corner with a kitchen inside, and the trashcan by the door. We see that two of the five oranges are rotten and one of them is not ripe.
It is not a simple task to select the oranges from the group because we notice the missing variables. Where should the fruit be placed, do we remove the rotten from good, do the ripe and unripe oranges need to go in separate places?
We can’t take the instructions at face value. We overanalyze and try to read in between the lines of the message.
We were conditioned to think…
There is a reason that we thrive in abstract and not logical one-option settings. Growing up, we were taught to read between the lines. It was instilled in us that since we don’t always understand, we must take extra steps to bridge the potential gap of information. So now, it is a stress response. When we look at the coding, we begin to read between the lines of the instructions. This is the reason that we do it incorrectly, because there is no inbetween, it just is.
While it is a common generalization that people on the autism spectrum are great at tech and numbers, we are the complete opposite.
Autism is a spectrum which means we all have different strengths and things that need improvement.
Often we are asked, “Do you like puzzles? Are you good at math? Hey, you should do xyz because you’re autisic!”
The answer is NO.
We always are open to try new things, but we know what we are best at accomplishing. No matter our neuro status, autism does not magically make us a math wiz or a savant. True, there are some things we excel at, like understanding quantum mechanics and temporal physics, but we cannot do Algebra if our life depended on it!
Our first time in college, we took a math class that required Algebra, integers, and all the other common maths. We were failing the class until Trigonometry. Our professor was confused when we got an A on the trig test. We remember the conversation well:
Professor: You have barely passed any of your exams. You aced this one, so I have to ask you, did you cheat?
Us: No sir.
Professor: I need you to retake this new exam and I have to watch.
Us: No problem.
We sat down and completed a new exam with flying colors. The professor was dumbfounded. He expressed that we have a unique mind and he was glad we were going to pass the class. Yes, the trig test saved our grade! We managed to pass the class with a C. This was a big accomplishment for us at the time, since we struggled so much.
Everyone is different and operates on their own standards.
Remember, the next time you meet someone autisitic, don’t assume, ask. Learn and get to know them as they are...not how you think they should be.