• By the Numbers

    Communication

    General Info “The number of special education students (in New York State) has risen slightly to 410,000, or 12 percent of the total population.” Hu, 1.

    Source: Article in ‘The New York Times.’

    Evidence of Spatial Ability In an embedded figures test, 24 children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and 25 typically developing control children worked to find an embedded figure within a larger image. Those with autism were “significantly better at younger ages, but the performance is more equivalent between the groups at older ages.” At age 6, typically developing children took roughly 36 seconds to respond, while autistic children took roughly 22 seconds to respond. At age 16, the typically developing group caught up, both groups taking roughly 10 seconds to complete the task. (See graph in article for full spectrum of reaction times). Essentially, autistic children develop effective use of their spatial skills at a younger age than typically developing children. Edgin, 738.

    Overall, several tests showed those with autism “are not generally superior across the spatial domain. Therefore, the present study has found evidence for intact, but not superior or impaired function in spatial processes across the autism spectrum.” Basically, this can suggest that although autistic people have strong spatial capabilities in relation to the other capabilities they are lacking in. Edgin, 741.

    Source: Article in the ‘Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.’

    A similar study, also involving an embedded figures task, came to a similar conclusion: “Hence, the good performance of individuals with autism is not distinctive in an absolute sense, but is good relative to their weaker performance in other domains.” Mitchell/Roeper,13. This is called “Paradoxical functional facilitation,” meaning that “a deficit in one of two neurological systems can lead to development of the other.” Mitchell/Roeper, 24.

    Source: Article in ‘ESRC Society Today.’

    Communication “Many now believe that communication is the primary disability in autism and that other behavioural problems are secondary.” Cole/Arndt, 86.

    Source: Chapter in ‘Health-Related Disorders in Children and Adolescents.’

    Comments on Thought Processes “There are some words I have immense difficulty in remembering the meaning of. These are ones that, for whatever reason, I cannot find a lasting spatial representation for…If I can ‘spatial-ise’ them then I can use them.” Baggs, 2.

    “The way I formulate language is spatial, and crosses all the sense… I talk about things being ‘on different levels.’ Some things are ‘surface’ levels, and others are ‘core.’ I want to know what is ‘behind’ something… I describe many things in terms of geometric shapes and concepts.” Baggs, 1.

    Source: Paper by autistic savant, J.M. Baggs.

    See bibliography for complete citations.

  • Jesse, You really finding some great sources, and it sounds like your understanding of the issues faced by the autistic individual in increasing. Is your conclusion that autistic kids do have enhanced spatial abilities, or only that they are compensating for deficits in other areas? And why do you think that, by the time they are 16, the advantage appears to disappear? Are you suggesting that, with appropriate educational supports, it would be possible to help these kids to purposefully cultivate their spatial skills as young children? If so, this might begin to suggest the kind of product that you should be considering for your thesis proposal. steven

  • Thanks for the response Steven. Your question about my conclusion is somewhat difficult to answer - I think that for each specific individual, these children do have enhanced spatial abilities. I don't necessarily think they are 'better' than the typical child, but for them it seems to be the strongest, most accurate sense. I think that the advantage starts to diminish by age 16 because typical children are engaging and understanding a myriad of senses all at the same time. Maybe because an autistic child does not develop all of these other senses as fully, they are able to focus more on spatial abilities. Similar to typical children who may be auditory/visual/tactile learners, I think that autistic children have this 'other' category of spatial learning. I am suggesting that this inherent spatial ability should be utilized in the education of autistic children so that they can learn most effectively.

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