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    Aspergers Rule Processing
    By Alex "Sandy" Antunes | October 21st 2011 11:00 AM | 1 comment | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    The issue at hand: a student with Asperger's Syndrome feels the teacher withholds recess breaks at a whim; the teacher feels that withholding recess is reinforcing the consequences of the student's actions.  From their personal viewpoints, each of them is correct.  Clearly, there is bad communication or signaling going on here.

    Note I use the shorthand 'Aspie' for 'someone with Asperger's syndrome', itself either a form of high-functioning autism, or a related pervasive developmental disorder (PDD), and the term 'neurotypical' to describe someone who does not have Asperger's.

    On Rules Processing

    This Aspie Student does understand the general rules in that he can repeat them, but it's very common with Aspies to have a mismatch between what an authority figure thinks is a reasonable sequence of events, and what the Aspie perceives.

    One thing to distinguish is 'memory' from 'application'.  The Student can quote back rules, however, the application of those rules is still a difficult topic of study.  To give an extreme example, most of us can handle the general rule 'do not talk during class' because we understand the framing and social assumptions with that.  But what does that statement really say?

      1) Do not talk during class.
        2) Unless the teacher calls on you.
           3) Or unless it's group interaction time.
              4) And if another student talks and doesn't get punished, that doesn't mean you can.
                 5) Absolutely never talk during tests.
                    6) Unless you have a question about the test, then you can talk.
                        7) Except if your question isn't what the teacher considers relevant, you're in trouble.
                          8) Also, do talk up if you're being bullied or there is a problem.
                             9) However, if the teacher doesn't agree with your opinion, you'll be in trouble.
                                10) Fortunately, if you break any of these rules, the teacher will remind you "don't talk in class".


    Broken out like that, it seems (to a neurotypical) artificially complex.  But that's how literal processing works.

    An Analogy

    The best way to think of it is that, to this Student, each classroom is a foreign country.  Scouts or a Sport or Church are likewise foreign countries.  Excursions are foreign trips.  Some of the countries are similar and some are different, but they all have foreign customs that must be memorized and sequenced-- they can't just be assumed.

    Until next week,
    Alex
    Tuesdays at The Satellite Diaries and weekly at The Daytime Astronomer (twitter @skyday)

    p.s. an apology

    Having me discuss how people with autism and Aspergers syndrome think is a perilous task.  Not being of that population, it's akin to me saying "this is how a foreigner thinks" and thus it fails on two levels.

    First, my lay analogy mistakenly assumes the involved population are all the same, that there's one 'way of thought' they all follow.  Second, a genuine thought model would require specialized training in, say, psychology or neurolinguistics or something other than 'space science'.

    However, I found myself forced to create an analogy while arguing with a public school system about rules enforcement against a specific student with Aspergers.  And in this, I feel comforted by the fact that, whether my analogy is strong or weak matters much less than the fact that the school is so far off the mark that any analogy can only help.

    Comments

    Gerhard Adam
    Perhaps the problem isn't with the Asperger's interpretation but rather with the neurotypical interpretation of such contradictions and ambiguity.  I'm sure that many people that are neurotypical presume that most rules are somewhat arbitrary and vaguely enforced, so there is a tendency for most people to view rules as being applicable only in the event that you're caught.  Obviously there are some stronger social taboos where the applicability of rules is more universally accepted, but in most other cases, I don't believe it is.

    While I expect we can all agree that drunk driving is a more serious violation of driving rules, the majority likely wouldn't feel the same regarding speeding.  In the latter case, I suspect that the majority of people feel that it is a rule that is enforced arbitrarily and subject to the "getting caught" phenomenon.
    Mundus vult decipi