A while back I saw a great meme on Facebook that said, “Autism: It’s not a processing error, it’s a whole different operating system.” Having an autistic son and knowing how he acts, his intelligence, his quirks, etc. (as well as being somewhat of a computer geek myself) – that saying really hit home and is about as accurate as they come.The sense of logic that young Matt often demonstrates can be amazing. And it’s not just Matt, other kids with autism often look at a set of instructions, a puzzle, or even just a general, daily, task and their minds process them in ways the rest of really can’t understand.
In a sense, their way of getting from Point A to Point B takes a much different path than the straight line that the rest of us might take. (Then again, maybe an autistic mind takes the straightest path and the rest of us tend to over-think and curve around.)
In the example below, a teacher asked her autistic student to put six words in alphabetical order. The response is kind of amazing if you think about it.
Now. Are those answers wrong? Perhaps in the sense of how we would interpret the instructions, yeah. Yet in the student’s mind, no way. They read the assignment and followed the instructions in a much more literal sense. Not wrong, but different.
The other day Matt brings me a random Chuggington train of his and just the face from one of his Thomas trains. He tells me, “Daddy. You make an Action Thomas.”
Because the “Chuggington” train wasn’t a “Thomas” train, the face was essentially incompatible. They’re two different brands; two different parts of two different toys.
“Sorry, Matt”, I said. “That’s not a Thomas train so you just can’t attach a face to it. It won’t work.“
Matt took my answer and walked away. Less than :30 seconds later – :30 seconds he yells, “Action Thomas!” and shows me the train with the face perfectly attached.
“How, the hell, did he do that?” I wondered. I was amazed.
Upon closer inspection, here’s what he did:
Going down the stairs to our basement, my wife had hung up a lot of the twins’ artwork from school. There were drawings, colorings, glued-on stuff, etc. Some of them were scotch-taped to the wall; some were stuck there with wall gum. Matt had simply removed a piece of the gum from the wall, applied it to the back of the “face” and stuck it cleanly to the front of the train.
An instant, albeit pretend, Action Thomas.Brilliant, really. I sure didn’t think of it and my wife and I both know that Matt’s twin brother wouldn’t have thought of it. Yet here he was faced with a problem and his mind provided what is really an out-of-the-box solution.
Now. Are there other 5-year old kids out there who could’ve done this? Sure. I’ve no doubt of that. But certainly not all of them. I’d even think the overall number would be relatively small.
The point is not to underestimate an autistic mind. Because they might not talk, socialize, or even think like the rest of us doesn’t mean they can’t talk, socialize, or think. They can and do – and in ways we can only try to make sense of.
A different operating system, is all…