I remember the day I spent over three hours trying to explain the phrase "when pigs fly” to my first grade son. He had overheard one of his classmates saying it and the phrase made no sense to him. “Mom”, he said in his no nonsense way, “I explained to David he was incorrect in his use of that analogy, because pigs can't fly…they don't have wings.” David and classmates laughed at my son. My gifted son was hurt and confused; he didn't get it. My own friends and colleagues laugh when I tell this story; they think it's cute. It is cute. However, one needs to understand that experiences like these with my son have helped me truly understand what the French novelist, Marcel Proust, meant when he said, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands, but in seeing with new eyes”.
I have just begun to understand (or learn) what learning is. It was not until I started addressing my youngest child’s educational needs and experiences that I realized that I really did not have a clue. Parenting my son has sent me on a voyage of discovery about learning through a different set of eyes, which has caused me to reevaluate my own professional ability to be open-minded enough to help all students be successful on our campuses.
My youngest son is extremely gifted, healthy, happy and can be described as otherwise “normal.” What makes him, and every other student like him, unique is that he is an autistic person; more specifically, he has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS). Helping him navigate the world with his disorder has given me a new perspective on student learning.
Asperger’s Syndrome can be described as developmental disorder falling within the autistic spectrum affecting two-way social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and a reluctance to accept change (p. 391). The most prominent features of this condition occur in three areas: difficulty with communication; rigidity and preservative behaviors; and often-profound difficulty interpreting the outside world. Most casual conversations are rapid, abstract, filled with figurative and nonlinear references, and depend on the ability to take another's perspective. The inability to understand idioms, double-meanings, and body language often result in communicative misunderstandings. Many individuals with AS are highly intelligent, even gifted. They may do well in school academically and have successful careers. Many people with AS may be considered odd or eccentric, especially because of their challenged social skills, including the avoidance of prolonged eye contact and difficulty developing meaningful peer relationships. My son has some form of all of these deficits; some more prevalent than others.
So, what does AS mean in daily life of my son, for his learning, and how has his educational experience impacted my perspective on learning in the collegiate setting?
AS means managing my son’s high need for routine and difficulty dealing with sudden...