How Would A Child with Autism Read this Common Core Aligned Test Question?
I’ve heard from mothers of children with autism and read in accounts from autistic adults such as Temple Grandin that these children (and adults) have difficulty in thinking abstractly. Grandin has written about how she thinks visually when presented with a concept. From My Mind is a Web Browser: How People With Autism Think:
Also, I understand concepts visually. For example, all objects classified as keys will open locks. I realize that the word “key” can also be used metaphorically, when we say, “the key to success is positive thinking.” When I think about that phrase, I see Norman Vincent Peale’s book, The Power of Positive Thinking, and I see myself back at my aunt’s ranch reading it. I then see a stage where a person is getting an award and I see a large cardboard key. Even in this situation, the key still unlocks the door to success. The ability to form categories is the beginning of the ability to form concepts. Keys in their physical form open physical locks but abstract keys can open many things, such as a scientific discovery or career success.
She explains her decision making process when confronted with a situation:
I see the decision-making process in my mind in a way most people do not. When I tried to explain this to a person who thinks in language, he just didn’t get it. How my decision-making works is most clearly seen in an emergency.
On a bright, sunny day, I was driving to the airport when an elk ran into the highway just ahead of my car. I had only three or four seconds to react. During those few seconds, I saw images of my choices. The first image was of a car rear ending me. This is what would have happened if I had made the instinctive panic response and slammed on the brakes. The second image was of an elk smashing through my windshield. This is what would have happened if I had swerved. The last image showed the elk passing by in front of my car. The last choice was the one I could make if I inhibited the panic response and braked just a little to slow the car. I mentally “clicked” on slowing down and avoided an accident. It was like clicking a computer mouse on the desired picture.
She doesn’t think as the same person who thinks in language. In a speech this year she criticized Common Core and its abstraction needed to be successful for children with autism. From Grandin down on common core, says world needs a variety of thinking models:
Read this passage from Test Anxiety: Common Core Exam Questions Are Made Public and try to think of the right answer if have autistic tendencies or it is difficult for you to think in the abstract. This question was for fourth graders:
I hope moms with children with autism will chime in and let us know how their children answered that question. When I first read it, my first response was maybe the narrator needed to be taken in and examined by a psychiatrist if a mower spoke to him. I don’t think this is an indication that I have autistic qualities but if I am reading a story about a boy learning how to drive a lawn mower, I wouldn’t expect a question about the mower, an inanimate object, speaking to the main character.
What do you think of this question for any “common” 4th grade child? In the comment section, I was surprised to see that not one commentator mentioned the difficulty for children who just don’t think abstractly. How do you score children on a common test who don’t think “common”? Who don’t think in language? Can we determine that there is no “common” appropriate standard for every child?