Asperger's: When the Wrong Answer Is Right

For children with Asperger's, sometimes the wrong answer is the right answer.

Those of you who read my posts know that my son, now in his early twenties, was not diagnosed with Asperger’s until he was practically an adult. As I look back, I am often amazed at the multitude of diverse clues he left as soft, yet distinct footprints throughout his beautiful childhood.

In kindergarten, he was given a worksheet with groups of pictures and instructed to circle the picture in each group that didn’t fit.  For nearly all of the questions, my quiet, thoughtful little boy had circled the “incorrect” answer. Following instructions from his teacher, he brought the paper home for my signature.

One particular question offered four photos: whale, elephant, wooly mammoth, and dinosaur.  He had circled the dinosaur as being the one that didn't fit in the group. His answer was marked wrong. The paper looked bloody from the teacher’s red marks. As I reviewed the worksheet, I was stunned at his answers, cringing at the violent red marks correcting his answers.

Patrick was reading a book when I called to him.  He shuffled in and sat down beside me. I pointed at the question about the whale, elephant, mammal and dinosaur. His teacher had circled in red the picture of the whale, noting that whales live in water and the other animals live on land. After reading aloud the teacher’s remarks, I asked Patrick to explain why he had chosen the dinosaur instead of the whale. He said something like, “That’s a brachiosaurus, and the brachiosaurus wasn’t a mammal. The whale and elephant and mammoth are mammals, Mama.” 

I suppose his teacher was correct: the whale does live in water. The whale was the only creature in the group without four legs. It should have been obvious. But was Patrick wrong?

There could be many correct answers to that one question, yet Patrick was told he was wrong in his conclusion. He said he found the question confusing, telling me that the brachiosaurus was an herbivore, the elephant was an herbivore, and the mammoth was kin to the elephant and therefore it was also an herbivore. The whale was a carnivore but if it was a blue whale it was an omnivore. “So which one should I circle, Mama?”

Good question. Sometimes the wrong answer is the right answer. And sometimes, there are many answers.

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Bryce Farbstein November 20, 2012 at 02:45 PM
thanks for sharing this story. i remember a similar experience of mine. and since, in my experience as a student and educator (and advocate for those diagnosed with varying disabilities), i believe it's important to note that sometimes we have to dig deep and push to break out of those four boxes which can be used to confine our minds and educational processes.
Kevin Madigan November 20, 2012 at 03:06 PM
Good point, Bryce.
Brenda Sutton Rose November 21, 2012 at 04:50 PM
Bryce, I've learned a great deal from my son and I continue to learn. Brenda
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