Bridging the communication gap between high functioning autistics and neurotypicals.

Posts tagged ‘homework’

Why School is Difficult for a High Functioning Autistic

Michelle: Mark, I know you had a lot of trouble in school growing up.  Can you explain the difficulties and what would have helped you?

Thanks, Michelle. Well, after some thought, I remember a few things that I had trouble with in school.

One was being disciplined enough to get started, carry through and to finish homework. Aspies have trouble with processes. Long drawn out methods are very difficult for us mostly because we don’t have the motivation to see long projects through. We need tutors or parents who will sit down with us at the start and show us how to take little steps. Then, periodically checking in on us as we continue so that we don’t waver. Plus the more abstract something is the more difficult it is to see it through to the finish.

Two, we Aspies ask for things directly and to the point. We ask for help in a point-blank manner. It has to be perfectly acceptable for us to ask for help in such a direct way without seeming like we are putting off our teachers or parents when we ask. Over my schooling, even in college, I saw nearly all my professors and teachers wince when I asked for help. That told me that they had trouble getting themselves to help me. So,  after a while,  I stopped asking for help. That wasn’t good for my grades or my views of school. Now, however, I realize that the direct approach I took was probably what made them sour on the idea. Also, after discussing this with NTs that I know, they have taught me how to ask without being so blunt. That has helped a lot.

Three, we don’t know how to forge relationships with our teachers or classmates mostly because we can’t read or ‘feel’ emotions. Relationships are the bedrock of just about everything in this world. That’s the major reason Aspies and HFAs are outsiders. Unfortunately, this leaves the burden of reaching out to Aspies and Auties to teachers, counselors, classmates and parents. This is the major reason I didn’t go to graduate school. One of my favorite professors thought I would be a brilliant physical anthropologist, but he didn’t know I had Asperger’s and neither did I then so, I missed out on my chance at a mentor and graduate school all because I didn’t see the emotional cues he was sending my way.

Four, many Aspies and Auties have perfectionistic streaks in them. I did. It made me miserable because I thought I could never do anything right all because it wasn’t perfect. Perfectionism in schoolwork seems like a good thing. Trust me, it wasn’t and isn’t, at least, not for us Aspies and Auties. As soon as we don’t get something right, we get  mad and that just confuses our brains even more. Having the added pressure of the expectation of good grades or getting all As compounds the problem beyond description. Patience is the key for parents, teachers and students.

These four things I think have been the most important things I lacked when I was in school. I also think that they are directly related to having Asperger’s syndrome or other High Functioning Autism disorders. I hope this note has been helpful. If there are any questions, please contact me (Mark) here at Happy Robot Inc.




Hyperfocus and Homework for High Functioning Autistics and Other Non-Neurotypicals

Hyperfocus is a passive form of stress release. It is used by HFAs and other Neuro Non-typicals to deal with emotional stress by escaping from it temporarily. Before you NTs out there start raising a ruckus about escapism, stop and honestly think about how many emotional problems you immediately tackle and you’ll then understand that for us that is our way of dealing with emotional and sensory overload. Why is excessively focusing on a subject a form of escapism? Well, let me tell you. It’s a form of visualization. We focus so intently on a subject we are fond of and then become part of that world in our own minds.

But, hyperfocus is also an altered form of consciousness that allows our brains to process problems or find solutions or express ideas all without the aid of emotional computation. When I first learned that most people solve their problems using emotional cues and solutions, I shook my head in amazement. Mostly, I was amazed because I couldn’t figure out how someone would solve their problems using their emotions. I still don’t understand that and I never will, but that’s ok.

I have had some parents ask why can’t their children ‘hyperfocus’ on their homework in the same way. Firstly, because homework consists of problem after problem. To us HFAs and other Neuro-Non-typicals, that just means stress after stress after stress. Home work problems are as stressful as social interactions, so, series of homework problems push us to retreat into hyperfocusing on our favorite subject, whatever that might be. Why is homework so stressful for us? Our society, and maybe the world, puts a pantload into being right. Being wrong is for losers. HFAs and possibly other Neuro Non-typicals see things in black-and-white only, so, we are set up with a perfectionistic mindset from day one. The added stress of perfectionism along with getting the correct answer to every homework problem turns us into nuclear reactor cores ready to meltdown anytime homework is mentioned.

How can I deal with my child’s reluctance to do homework? As a parent, please realize that the word ‘motivation’ means very little to HFAs and possibly other Neuro-NonTypicals.(Please see Michelle’s note “Words that NTs belive in that mean nothing to an aspie) Motivation is an emotion that most of us (HFAs etc.) are unfamiliar with. Giving your child long-term reasons to be motivated, forget about it. We need gentle, consistent patient support. Sitting down with your child at the outset  of a homework session with constant check-ins over the course of the two or three hours of the session and being available to answer questions should contribute to productive sessions. For high schoolers and middle schoolers, staying after school to be in contact with available teachers and/or tutors will relieve much of the anxiety.

I’ve had some ask me if I used to get upset when I was interrupted from a hyperfocused state. The answer is “Yes, I still do”. But, as an adult in my 40s, I now realize that my being upset over an interruption isn’t necessary or helpful. I can remind myself that getting back to what I want to do is never really that far off. Here’s an analogy I used once to explain what an interruption of a hyperfocused state is like for us (HFAs etc.). I explained that, for us, our hyperfocused state is like paradise. Interruptions to that state are akin to being swarmed by cockroaches that no amount of pest control can eradicate. The reaction of the person I was describing this too convinced me that they understood.

If there’s anything that anyone would like to ask me about please post it in a comment below this post, or email me here at

Thanks always….