Asperger Syndrome and Showing Your Work

Drew Coulter Vid 2.jpg
By Drew Coulter

I had a lot of trouble writing this article, because I kept questioning just how much about the Asperger mental processes I should explain to you. One of the most fundamental frustrations that I have is explaining something in what I thought would be clear terms to someone, or at least in terms sufficient that they can guess the meaning, only to have them ask what I am talking about. In my more selfish moments, I feel that I have gone out of my way to explain things, but the other party is putting no effort into comprehension.

I have heard that asper kids in math class have a lot of trouble showing work. This is because we have trouble telling the difference between what work we are supposed to show, and what work we don’t have to show because it is obvious.

If the equation was 4+5=?, it is obvious what the answer is. If someone told you to show your work on how you got 9, what would you do? Would you draw four circles next to five circles and number all of them? But, when they ask you to multiply 26 by 4, then things start getting complicated. The process I learned looks something like this:


X 4




But there are more complicated ways of displaying the answer. You could write: 26+26+26+26, or you could draw twenty six rows and four columns of circles and number each one? If an asper-kid showed ALL of the work that went into solving a math problem, we would go into such minute detail that we would fill up the page with over-simplified, long explanations.

People take for granted all of the minute details that go into simple actions. For example: walking. If one were so inclined, one could list the bones, muscles, and tendons in the leg and describe everything from the tensile strength of the tendons, the force applied by each muscle, and review the degrees of rotation between the bone joints. I could go on, or I could just say: You put one foot in front of the other and repeat.

The general instruction in showing your work in class is that you do not have to show the simple parts, but you have to show the hard parts. The problem is that to us, it is all simple.

If you want the child to show more work, the best thing you can do is show them a math problem, write out the correct amount of work as you expect it to be, and say to the child: “your answer should look like this.” Clearly define exactly what you should see on the test or in the homework.

It may take more than this to achieve the results you want, but teaching “up-front” by making your expectations clear – and ensuring your student understands them – can avoid frustration and shorten the path to success.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR – Drew Coulter was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome in 1997. He has a B.A. degree in creative writing and an A.A. degree in accounting, works, and lives independently.

Copyright Drew Coulter 2013 Used by Permission All Rights Reserved

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