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How do our kids think?
The most accurate word I use when describing how my child with autism thinks is he thinks "literal." Typically, children on the autism spectrum remember the concrete much easier than the abstract. They are logical and deep thinkers. Here are some recent examples from my own child to demonstrate:
My child asked me, "Will I get my computer today?" I answered him, "Discussing your bad test is 6,000 times more important than computer." My child responded, "Or more than 6,000."
When trying to choose between two desserts one night, my child very logically came up with a solution. He said to me, "How about I eat half of my chocolate ice cream and half of the chocolate bar, Mommy?"
We were discussing one of my child's school tests, we asked him about the different types of water on the Earth. "Salt water is in the...?" My child said, "The ocean." I then asked, "Fresh water is found in...?" My child answered, "In water bottles."
And, finally, one day I pointed out to my sniffling child that the tissue box was "two inches behind you." He quickly corrected me, "Mommy, it's NOT two inches."
These types of exchanges happen often with my child. And, yes, typical children often will give similar answers.
I know my child very well and I know that he thinks literally. Sometimes I can understand his thinking and can predict his responses, and other times he catches me off guard. I sometimes forget he is so literal and logical. He is more comfortable with the concrete. And it is his version of the concrete as he understands it.
What does this mean for your child on the spectrum?
When your child is young, you may not even realize that your child with autism or Aspergers may turn out to be a logical thinker. Not all children do, of course. But, many kids on the spectrum end up with those qualities.
When they're young, though, they may be quiet (lost in their own thoughts and unable to respond) or they may (for the most part) be responding to the world around them by rote.
When my child got older and his personality began to emerge, I think that was when I began to notice that my child was a literal and logical thinker.
How can you help your literal/logical thinker?
My best advice is to talk your child about their literal responses. Try not to let them disappear. Discover teaching moments. Try to get them to understand they may be correct about something but may need to think a bit differently. To us, the answer may be easy. But they may need a more thorough explanation.
For example, my child was right to point out my exaggeration of "6,000 times more important." However, I did need to explain what an exaggeration is and why sometimes people use exaggerations. People use them all the time. And I want my child to be able to recognize an exaggeration and to respond appropriately.
The logical thinking of having 1/2 of two desserts was awesome, I thought. And I told him so. I told my child that he did an excellent job of negotiating a dessert issue.
And with the fresh water, my child was correct. Fresh water is in bottled water. I told him so and then asked him for the answer that was going to be on his science test (the one in the book).
And with the tissues, again, he was correct. If I let him, my child would probably have even gotten out a ruler and measured the distance from his chair to the tissue box to prove to me that it was more than two inches in distance. I could not argue with him or even be upset with him.
Because he was right.
I couldn't, however, just leave it like that. I had to tell him that I was simply pointing out that he needed to blow his nose and the tissues are very close to him. All I was trying to tell him was he needed to stop what he was doing and take care of his nose.
Why explain things to our kids?
Knowing my child wouldn't mind it, I could easily speak to him more often in his literal terms. I can be more exact. I can be more logical. I can teach him to line up his homework paper exactly on the line with the lines on the table cloth. I measure the exact distance of things.
But, does the world work that way?
No. Nor do I think like that. I can be logical and rational and structured. More so than a lot of other people. But I do not always think like that, even with a child who is a literal/logical thinker. He is still going to surprise me with just how literal he can be.
What is important?
It's important to help my child learn how the world works. And find a way to integrate his thinking within our world. I can only do that by explaining things, again and again and again. I'm hoping that eventually things will stick.
I do not, by the way, strive to change him. He is a literal/logical thinker and I adore how he sees the world. But it is my job to prepare him for the real world. And I have to do my job.
In my next blog, I will discuss a related issue...Idioms. How do you teach your child idioms?
And why is it important that they learn them?