When our son, Tom, was in third grade he was able to do an entire page of double-digit multiplication quite accurately. He could read a grade level book. And he could tell you a great deal about the animals he'd learned about by watching Animal Planet.
Unfortunately, while he could calculate, he had no idea how multiplication could be applied in the real world - even in the context of word problems. While he could read, he couldn't give you the plot of a short story. And while he could recite paragraphs of information about lizards, he couldn't actually tell you anything about lizards in his own words.
This type of apparent - but not quite real - understanding is quite common among children in general. Ask a neurotypical child, for example, to explain the significance of the pledge of allegiance... or to explain what makes a square a square. You'll find that many young children can recite a memorized script or identify an object without really understanding what they're saying or looking at.
For children with autism, though, it can be particularly tough to separate skills from understanding. That's because kids with autism are often extremely good at reading at a very young age - and so appear to have advanced understanding of ideas that they really don't grasp at all. They may be extraordinarily good at rote memorization, and able to rattle off whole paragraphs memorized from books or videos - yet understand very little of what they've said. And they may be very good at working with numbers without having a clue as to how numbers might relate to real-world situations.
To what degree are these "splinter skills" really useful? How can parents work with kids on the autism spectrum to help them use and build on such skills? Tell your story!
Learn more about autism and splinter skills: