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Mommy Minder, Mommy Finder

  • Posted on January 3, 2011 at 8:00 AM

There are a few in the autism community that thoroughly investigate any studies they find interesting.  I’m not one of those.  But once in a while I do find a study that strikes a chord with me.  I don’t latch onto that study as gospel truth, but I do reflect on it once found.

One such study relates to visual skills.

Children with autism may lack certain visual skills needed to be independent in adulthood, new study findings suggest.

For example, they might find it harder than other adults to find shoes in the bedroom or apples in the supermarket, according to researchers at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom.

The study authors asked 20 children with autism and 20 typical children to press buttons to find a hidden target among multiple illuminated locations in a room. One side of the room had more targets than the other side.

The children with autism took longer to recognize patterns in the test structure that would help them choose where to search for the targets. The findings suggest that the ability to search for objects in a large-scale environment is less efficient and less systematic in children with autism compared to typical children, the researchers pointed out in a university news release.

Personally, I’m a little skeptical that the findings (concerning finding hidden targets in multiple illuminated locations) can be generalized to finding shoes or apples, or that the delays in these skills identified in autistic children necessitates a similar lacking in autistic adults.  However, it does strike a chord with me.

One responsibility that seems to be primarily mine in my household of men is keeping track of things and finding them once they go missing.  To me, it’s always seemed to be a skill of thoroughness.  You put things back into their place, and when they’re not there you look everywhere until you find it.  But, perhaps, there’s more to it than that.

Perhaps I am able to identify things in a manner that my husband and children cannot.  Whether it’s a perceptual ability or a skill, I don’t know.  I mean, if you literally cannot see what you’re looking for—and by see, I mean differentiate the object you’re looking for among the clutter—, then how can you find it?  But, perhaps it is a skill.  Perhaps it is one of those skills that neurotypical individuals (and some neurodiverse individuals like myself) pick up more or less naturally to the extent that they don’t know how to teach it to those who do not acquire the skill in a similar manner.

It’s worth some thought.  Perhaps if I spent less time being annoyed that I am expected to know where everything is even after they’ve moved them and more time helping them develop this skill of minding and finding that I take somewhat for granted, then perhaps we would all be better off. 

On the other hand, from what I’ve heard from other mothers (and not just mothers of autistic kids), this seems to be a common complaint among women.  Perhaps it’s a male/female thing.  I mean, if the study didn’t account for the imbalance between boys and girls with diagnoses of autism, but had a balance between boys and girls in their typical peer group, then perhaps the difference they recorded could be less about typical/autistic development and more about male/female development.

So, what do you think?  Is it a skill or an ability?  Is it related to autism or something else?


  • Posted on March 16, 2010 at 12:51 PM

I was on the move, as I so often am—moving from one room to another in the process of some mundane accomplishment.  I pass through the living room, but I stop before I make it through the door to go upstairs.  It’s a moment.

Ben is unaware of me behind him.  His eyes are transfixed to the television screen as his squirms and giggles.  School House Rock is playing its vibrant colors and engaging music.  It’s a Grammar Rock skit.  Flashing across the screen are a series of statements, each ending in an exclamation point.  Sometimes there is just the one word.  Other times a few word pop on to the screen in sequence.  Each time Ben’s finger touches the exclamation point and he says, “Point!”  Over and over again he identifies the exclamation points with his finger and his words.

This moment in time is precious.  It a confluence of skills that would seem ordinary or even under-par for a typically developing seven year old, but for Ben it’s further evidence that his developmental trajectory has shot up dramatically over the last year.  Both pointing and speaking were skills that were difficult for him to develop.  The ability to attach words to applicable situations in a manner that conveys meaning is a hard-won skill.  Pointing required a lot of hand-over-hand instruction.  Now, he was doing both independently in a situation that expressed not only his understanding, but his excitement. 

“Great job, Ben!”  He looks at me, squeals, and wrings his hands in excitement; but my praise is lost in the thrill of another screen full of “points” to identify.  He’s not doing it for me.  He’s doing it because he enjoys his little game.  As I move on to my mundane task, I cannot help but revel in the glow of accomplishment.  The accomplishment I see isn’t merely the confluence of skills—though I certainly recognize the significance of that when it comes to developing additional skills and climbing his way through our educational system.  The accomplishment I see is his application of the things we’re teaching him to his own purposes.  He’s generalizing not just to the tasks we attempt to assign to him, but to games he invents for himself.

That’s an accomplishment all children should get to enjoy.  Yet, with our children demonstrating so many delays, with so many different ways we can and “should” help them, often free time for the child to just play without any expectations seems so fleeting.  As parents of children with autism we need to remember that kids learn a lot simply from playing.  Some people tell us that this statement doesn’t hold true for children with autism.  I think they’re wrong.  Autistic children may not learn the same things their neurotypical peers learn from play, but they do learn and they do experience joy in the games they develop for themselves.  Let them!  They need that time just as much as they need skill-development time.  Without that “down time” there is so much they miss.