I have a particular cognitive style, which means that I have difficulty with some of the broad or vague concepts and tasks that are very much a part of Higher Education. These have often lead to an inability to begin tasks.
|Area of Asperger’s Syndrome||Example||Issues I have experienced in Higher Education||Solutions that would have helped me|
|Cognitive style||Getting started||I need to get to grips with a whole topic before starting any work on it. I need to know and understand what I am going to do/say/write before I can start, then I plan backwards until I reach the first step and can then begin. Up until my final year I had difficulty explaining my thesis topic to anybody because I didn’t have any answers. I can’t give an incorrect answer, or an incomplete interim answer, I have to know and believe what I’m saying. I am writing up my thesis starting with the results, and leaving the introduction til last.||Encourage and check essay plan, perhaps providing an example; suggest working backwards.|
|Global vs local cognitive style||Very detail oriented, unable to grasp important global interpretations or implications, difficult to work from the general to the particular and back again, difficult to summarise or provide an overview (fear of loss of detail).||Constructive feedback, with examples where it has been done well; less emphasis in mark scheme for introduction/conclusion if main body is good.|
|Weak central coherence||I need a purpose to my reading, a specific thing I am looking for or question I want to answer (a ‘tree’). I cannot just ‘read around the subject’ to gain an understanding of the area (‘balloons’), because I need a branch, and preferably the whole tree in place first, in order to tie the balloons to it as I am reading. Otherwise I am just trying to hold on to a lot of information in my head, lots of loose balloons, and there is a finite number that I can hold on to before they float away. Even a single paper/chapter I am unable to hold in my head, or form an overview that I can call on, unless I had the tree in place first to peg it to.||If setting reading prior to a seminar, provide the questions you will ask at the same time as the reading list, otherwise the student may appear not to have bothered doing the reading as they cannot answer surprise questions.|
|Cognitive flexibility||I have great difficulty changing between tasks (eg writing two different chapters or running two experiments at the same time) as I have to be completely “inside” the task I’m currently doing. It would be difficult to keep changing topics or activities in a session as my thought processes have quite a lot of momentum once they’re going in a particular direction.||Set tasks sequentially rather than concurrently. Try not to cover too many things in one session.|
|Difficulty making mental leaps and assumptions||Something may seem obvious to most but perplexing to me because I am not able to transfer skills very easy across settings or people – particularly abstract ideas requiring imagination or things that have never occurred to me. I also can’t generalise myself across different situations – When I’m not completely inside the task at hand I don’t think I know anything about it. I have to remind myself that I have run lots of experiments before I will be fine with this one, and I could understand that experiment well enough to write about it before I started this one, so I will be able to understand it again once I go back to it.||Analogies, labels and comparisons help me to form scripts, schemata and rules for new situations/ people without starting from scratch – “John is officious”, “Treat this woman like a senior colleague”, “Collect your data just like last time but using this other questionnaire”.|
|Black and white thinking||I often only perceive two extremes of an issue without the ‘greys’ in between; views like television channels – it’s either one or the other, it can’t be both or inbetween. People can be viewed as perfect or terrible, and minor slights can cause irretrievable breakdowns in student-tutor relationships.||Don’t confuse this with being judgemental and don’t penalise. Describe what the third channel is like and it might be added…|
|Short term memory||I have to make lists for everything and keep a detailed diary as my memory, particularly my prospective memory, is terrible. This has knock on effects for my organisation and time-management.||Put anything important in writing/email or allow me to write it down at the time. Break longer term coursework goals into smaller short term goals.|
|Decision making||Open questions: “So what are you doing now?” – Unclear what information you want: “I’m standing here talking to you”, “I’m going home (after we finish talking)”, “I’m doing a PhD…”“Tell me about your research” – Unclear what information you want, and in what order, and in how much detail: Topic, title, department, year, supervisor, what I’m looking for, what I’ve found, what I want to find, why I’m doing this research, do I enjoy it etc.||Be more specific – “So what are you doing after we finish talking?” “What’s the title of your thesis?|
© Catastraspie, 2012.