Tuesday, May 13, 2008

autism versus gifted or visual-spatial

Auditory-sequential learners can compartmentalize their emotions better than visual-spatial learners. If they're upset, they can put their feelings on hold during class. Not so with VSLs. They become their anger, their joy, their sorrow. They may be extremely sensitive to how they're perceived by the other students or by the teacher. If you're having a bad day, or a migraine, Zach may interpret your facial expression as indicating that you "don't like him". If he comes to that conclusion, he may be able to learn in your class. However, if Zach feels that you really appreciate his silly sense of humor, his creativity, his far out ideas, he'll be highly motivated in your classroom. Never underestimate the power of genuine appreciation in teaching children.

-Linda Kreger Silverman, PhD, "Upside-Down Brilliance: The Visual-Spatial Learner"

An acquaintance of mine is a teacher, as is his wife. A few months ago, he came back from an education conference very excited about a presentation they had seen. He said that the speaker discussed the role of emotion in learning. A person who is angry, upset, worried, or feels put upon in any way will not be able to learn. As a teacher, one of the first things you must do is make sure that your students are not getting the sense from you that there is something wrong with them. Teachers cannot do anything about the external influences in their students' lives, but they can do a lot in the classroom to foster an emotional environment that is conducive to learning.

I have seen this in action many times, which is another reason I am puzzled that someone would think my son was autistic. His behavior has always seemed to depend very strongly on his teacher. He has had teachers for whom he was responsive and worked hard, and he has had teachers who could not get him to even look at them. I have arrived at the point that I can meet a teacher and determine within minutes how his time with that person will go.

As a VSL, he is incredibly sensitive to the behaviors, words, and emotions he senses from his teachers. He is sensitive to their overall emotional state at any given time, even if he can't identify the specific things that create those impressions. One year, he had an elementary teacher who was an "old battle-ax", and nothing that year went right. Later in grade school, he had a teacher who always was encouraging and showered him with praise. That year went wonderfully. Now that he is in the realm of multiple classes and teachers, his motivation waxes and wanes through the day and will change as semester schedules change.

While it may be difficult to distinguish the presence of autistic spectrum disorders from giftedness or visual-spatial learning styles, there are ways. The dependence of positive emotions from the teacher will have a large effect on the gifted and VS groups, whereas autistic children will have difficulties in any environment. It is important to examine not only isolated social interactions but overall behavior and sensitivity of the child when examining such issues.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Maybe the characteristics of being autistic and a gifted visual spatial learner overlap. I think gifted over-excitables are probably the same in a lot of cases as autistic sensory issues. A lot of HFA/Asperger's are also gifted. Some have speclated that Einstein, Issac Newton, Henry Cavendish, Thomas Jefferson, Vicent Van Gogh, WB Yeats, Andy Warhol, Bill Gates are HFA/Asperger's.