Many people who have autism have a better than average ability to see patterns and connections between things. If you watched any of the Employable Me BBC series which was on TV early in 2016 you will have seen leading autism expert Professor Simon Baron – Cohen taking three autistic men through a series of visual puzzles which they were able to do with speed and ease in comparison to the average person on the street.
Edward also has this ability to see patterns quickly. One of the first times he demonstrated this was when he was only 5 years old. He was aware that people from different countries spoke different languages and he was also really interested in numbers. He asked Nick to count to 20 in German. Now Nick did scrape an O level in German many years ago and although languages are not his strong point he was willing to give it a go. So off he went, “eins, swie, drie, vier, funf, sechs, sieben, acht, neun, zehn, elf, zwolf, driezehn, vierzig, funfzehn, sechzehn,siebzehn,achtzehn, neunzehn, zwanzig”
Edward, who had never heard German being spoken before, stopped him and said, “Dad, do you think you made a mistake?”
It turned out that Nick had indeed got muddled up and said the equivalent of 1, 2,…….. 12 ,13, 40, 15,16,17,18 ,19, 20. (but in German). Due to his fantastic perception for pattern detection Edward had spotted it a mile off. I thought this was pretty impressive for a five-year old. I still do.
Edward had not had a good start at school and he was often being told off for not sharing, for arguing, for not sitting still and so on. I seized my chance to present some evidence to the teachers to support the fact it wasn’t all disastrous, as far as Edward was concerned. When I collected him from school I let the teaching assistant know what had happened at home, naively imagining that she would be impressed and want to extend his learning.
She wasn’t and she didn’t.
In fact she used it as an opportunity to remind me that Edward didn’t know how to write his 5s the right way round. My little excited bubble burst and I deflated quickly.
The problem was that Edward wasn’t much interested in writing his 5s the right way round, he was interested in exploring more complicated patterns and ideas.
Edward is an information sponge. He likes learning stuff. You’d think a child like that would love school, wouldn’t you? However throughout primary school there was not always much overlap between what Edward was interested in learning and what the national curriculum had to offer.
One morning when he was about 11 years old I discovered Edward watching a TED talk titled “Do schools Kill Creativity?” by Ken Robinson. It’s a funny but also challenging talk about the importance of allowing children to become creative and innovative thinkers not just for their own sake but also for the sake of humanity as a whole. The focus of school education seems to have shifted so that children are funnelled through school simply to pass exams. Our kids are being taught formulaic answers so that they can get the best scores possible. No wonder some kids are turned off school.
Edward was jumping up and down with excitement as he watched the TED talk but I had to make him stop before it had finished because it was time to go to school.
Neither of us missed the irony of the situation.
So many talents go unrecognised and un-nurtured when we value a very narrow set of achievements.
I recently read about a young man called Chris Baker with autism who dropped out of school at 14 and in the absence of anything else to do started drawing at home. He’s now 20 and is earning a living from his drawings, such is his level of artistic skill. Why did he never had a chance to discover his amazing talent at school?
This is not a photograph of Benedict Cumberbatch – it’s one of Chris’s photorealistic pencil drawings of the Sherlock star.
If you want to check out more of his Chris baker’s art work click here.