Autism and the Transference of Skills

Some people believe that autism is a negative when it comes to working.  Others think that some of the skills that come with having autism can be very positive for various parts of life, and work.  Some benefits, and services are also provided on the basis of a person`s skill- levels.

But is the concept of skill- levels flawed?  And how transferable are certain skills learned in one situation, to other, even similar situations?

People with autism may be good at one thing, but struggle severely with another.  An example of this would be the fact that many autistic public speakers who can deliver speeches and talks to thousands of people, might not have any ability to dress themselves, or look after their own personal care.  Other people with autism may study and achieve incredible grades and qualifications, but be unable to get to their college or university by themselves, and need to have somebody to accompany them when traveling between classes.

People don’t have to excel in a skill, they might simply be able to get by to a standard degree when it comes to something such as personal care, or independence.  But whether they get by or excel it won’t necessarily mean that simply because they are skilled on one area they will be skilled in all areas.

The problem is that neuro-typical people tend to be fairly able to transfer skills that they learn in to other areas of their life, whereas autistic people may struggle with this; an example of this might be that even if an autistic person was able to follow one bus route independently, they may not be able to transfer the set of skills they use for this on to another bus journey automatically, and would perhaps have to begin learning again from scratch.

Certainly in the UK, and presumably in other areas of the world that have benefit systems, and grants for people with autism, it is not uncommon for somebody to be denied benefits for one element of their autism simply because they manage with another.  For example, if a person can go out and about independently then others may perceive them as being `almost neuro-typical`, and not really struggling with aspects of their autism.  But in reality they may be able to go somewhere independently at the cost of having severe meltdowns in the days afterwards.  Just because their skills in one area are strong doesn’t mean that strength will be shared evenly throughout all their skills, or that skills learned to perform one task will be easily transferable to another, even similar task.

Everybody has a set of skills; some which they may excel at, some of which are average, and some which are poor.  The problem that autistic people can face is when they encounter somebody who treats autism almost as a check-list; looking for so-called weaknesses in certain skill-sets – socialising or independence for example – and not bothering to look at things such as how those skills vary from day to day, and if the person is able to transfer these skills easily to other situations.  And people often fail to simply look across the broad range of that person`s skills, and abilities.

The fact that many autistic women seem good at appearing more skillful in these areas than men do – despite having the exact same problems – has led to a lot of women going undiagnosed for many years.  And this is why it is good to remember that simply judging somebody`s social skills, or something lie this, is not always the best way to sum up their abilities, or ascertain what help they may need – each autistic person is an individual.