Daily living with autism #10: Science is hard!

unrecognizable female students studying with books

Dear Patience

I need a healthy dose of you this season.

Because I’m not a good parent when it comes to coaching my autistic son during this exam season.

Let me explain using just one of his school subjects by way of illustration.

Weird Science!

ants walking along metal wire
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The topic we revised extensively this week was the one on bio-diversity for one of his core subjects Science.

Or more correctly, how to figure out what animal or category of animal his teachers wanted C and his classmates to identify in various class assignments and practices.

And the dreaded exam next week.

Here’s the thing.

At this level (it’s only the second year he’s been doing Science), most of the stuff involves knowledge that nearly every adult would know. Like there are different categories of living things from mammals to reptiles. So it’s not a question of me not knowing these things. Despite leaning more towards humanities, for most of my school life, I was actually a Science-stream student.

So to help him revise wouldn’t be a big deal right?


Patience, you need to know a few things about my son C.

First, he will only focus on what he likes. Which in this instance, isn’t living things — unless it’s to do with ants. He’s more your bus and road signs kind of kid. When science involves non-living things, there’s a better chance our friend will stay on track and not lose interest.

Actually, even that last bit of trivia on him varies from day to day, depending on moods and circumstances.

Second, the different ways questions are designed for Science assessments often trip him up. Being fairly linear in his thought patterns, our friend struggles to figure out the myriad of ways his Science teacher tests students for understanding.

More than one way to skin a cat!

short coated gray cat
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Typically we find that most assessment questions at C’s level will have the usual straightforward question forms like multiple choice and filling in blanks.

Pretty standard.

But as we all know, there’s always more than one way to skin a cat right?

And for Science topics covering living things, there are myriad ways to test knowledge and competency.

For one, the study of bio-diversity at C’s level typically begins with learning about the distinctive characteristics of living things (plants and animals). And learning how to distinguish one from the other by grouping those with similar traits together.

Take this week’s revision on animals as an example.

After establishing that animals all over the world can be grouped into six categories — amphibians, birds, fish, insects, mammals, and reptiles — students are then tested on their knowledge of each category’s distinct or shared characteristics in various ways.

Two of the most prevalent come in the form of tables and charts that look like a family tree.

That’s when it gets tricky for C.

When it comes to science, a one-track mind doesn’t help!

train railway near trees
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Tables as we know come in various sizes depending on the number of rows and columns. From a student’s point of view, more isn’t merrier though!

It’s one thing to fill in the cells for a two-column table where the left column lists say the different categories of animals, and the right examples students must cite of such animals. Straightforward enough for most.

It’s quite another thing when there are five or six columns and twice the number of rows! And when there is the possibility of more than one answer that straddles a few cells? Not a case of “spoilt for choice” for a “one-track mind” kid like my C!

So for instance, if he’s asked to list down say which animal groups share similar characteristics like giving birth by laying eggs, and swimming, it takes a while for him to figure out the answer (amphibians and some reptiles).

When it comes to charts, he’s usually stumped with those that begin with pictures and a starting question, like “does this animal have feathers?” Then, depending on whether the answer is a yes or no, the chart branches off into different paths where more questions are asked for him to identify which animal it is.

Many a time C would simply answer the first thing that comes to his mind. Or worse, whichever has the fewest letters to write. Never mind if the answer is right or not.

He simply hasn’t the patience or presence of mind to ponder and unpack. So naturally, most of his answers are off the mark.

What’s a parent to do with science?

a man in red shirt covering his face
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Mind you, even with the supposedly-straightforward question types like multiple-choice questions (MCQs), our friend has his own warped logic of how to answer them.

Like this week when, upon completing one page of MCQs with about four or five questions, he realized that none of the answers were option 1. “Daddy, there’s no ‘1’ answer. That’s unfair. I shall change one of the answers to ‘1’!”

Patience, if you were me, how would you respond? Especially with a kid like C who has his own brand of logic. At some ethereal level, I suppose I can marvel at his insanely high level of ’empathy’ for justice in the numeral world! But that’s not how the real world works.

So how does this clueless, struggling, frustrated dad get him to realize that with a subject like science, where reality and facts rule, there isn’t too much room for creativity like his? Even though his answer reflects a child-like innocence that shines through like a diamond in the rough. And somewhere in this dad, I find it both cute and endearing.

Dear Patience, if you can spare me a double dose of you this week in the lead-up to his science exam on Thursday, I’ll deeply appreciate it!


Clueless Dad!

One thought on “Daily living with autism #10: Science is hard!

  1. I really enjoyed this posting. There’s something within each of us to be enjoyed if we are flexible in a way that may not seem logical (or natural) to us. But the learner can unknowingly become a teacher, too.

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