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AS Literal Thinking

By Karen D:

In case anyone hasn't heard this story, here it is again. This was way before enzymes when he was six years old. He is much better now, but it still happens.

My son has a characteristic which is particularly unhelpful in a classroom. Matthew thinks in a very literal way. At times. It shows up inconsistently. His kindergarten teacher and first grade teacher really worked with him over and above the call of duty. I was impressed with how much effort they gave helping my son. But sometimes it was me who finally figured out what was causing the problem. Probably because most of my life, many caring and thoughtful people, and some rather unthoughtful ones, have pointed out that I also tend to see things very literally. I never thought of this characteristic as being either good or bad. It just was a particular characteristic I had. It wasn't until I had a son of my own who thought the same way that I realized what a very irritating quality it can be.

In first grade Matthew needed to work on handwriting his letters appropriately. He would not write on the lines, as his teacher showed him. So after talking with his teacher, I tried to figure out the problem.

"Matthew, do you know your teacher wants you to write your words on the lines?"
Matthew answered, "Yes."
"So, why don't you write on the lines?"
"She didn't say to."
"But you know she wants you to."
"But she didn't say to do it."
Think... what is going on?...
"Matthew, write on the lines whether she tells you to or not. When someone says they want you to do something, that means to do it."
The next day, he was writing on the lines.
The following day, he had not written on the lines.
"Matthew, why didn't you write on the lines?"
"I did. Yesterday."
Think... what is the connection he needs...
"Matthew, write on the lines on the paper every day. When your teacher teaches you something, she means for you to continue doing it all the time afterward as well whether she tells you to or not."
The next day, Matthew's paper had lines and writing all over it, going up the margins, looping around the top, everywhere.
"Matthew, what is this? Why aren't you writing on the lines?"
"I did. I just decided to draw my own lines and write on those."
"Matthew, write your words on the lines on the paper and only on the lines that are on the paper until you graduate from any school you ever attend whether anyone ever tells you to or not."

We haven't had any problem since. But I admire his creativity. This is just one example of many where I needed to intercept and figure out how a literal mind is hearing and translating "typical" expectations and directions. Being Matthew's mom has helped me to understand how frustrated people would get with me at times. They must have felt I was being difficult on purpose, thinking "how could someone not 'get' something so obvious", when I sincerely didn't understand their meaning. I am sure they thought "Surely she isn't really that dense. She did go to graduate school." I am not sure why Matthew's ability to be so vastly creative and yet, at times, so brutally literal reside so nicely together. It appears inconsistent, yet underneath, somewhere, there is perhaps an explanation.

It seems to me that everyone has a "blind spot" in learning and understanding things. Many people don't "get" algebra or chemistry. How many people just laugh off the fact they can't program their VCR? These are deficiencies you can usually work your life around or completely avoid. In autistic conditions, the "blind spot" happens to be reading social cues...something you can't get around with other people. It is right there in your face, every day. But sometimes everyone has this problem with fundamental communication.

[my thanks to Karen D from the Yahoo group enzymesandautism for allowing me to use these notes on my site]

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