The Third Part of the Triad: The Uneven Cognitive Profile

The uneven cognitive profile, also known as splinter skills, is when a person on the autism spectrum may demonstrate great strengths in an area but be severely lacking in skills in another area. An example of this may be great academic or verbal ability alongside a weakness in self-help skills such as personal hygiene. We need to be aware of the uneven cognitive profile because we often make assumptions on a person’s ability when viewing the strength(s).

What the neurotypical population has difficulty understanding is how can someone with a very IQ or exceptional abilities have difficulty with independent living or navigating the social world? Our higher functioning folks on the spectrum often suffer because supports are withdrawn or limited because of their splinter skills. We cannot make assumptions based solely on IQ or a person’s ability that may stem from a special interest. We have to look at the entire picture, not just the parts.

I have often heard educators say they do not use visual supports when a student on the autism spectrum has excellent verbal skills. This may be a false assumption because many people on the spectrum have auditory processing difficulties. If the student reads well, using text supports may be enough but some people do not have the ability to transfer those words into a picture. TempleGrandin is a perfect example of this – someone who has Ph.D., speaks well yet thinks in pictures (have a look at her excellent book Thinking in Pictures).

The uneven cognitive profile has to be kept in mind as the person enters into adulthood. It may not be feasible to live alone in an apartment because of the amount of responsibility. If this is the person’s dream, then assessment of proper supports need to take place. An example of supports may be someone looking in on them every week, creating checklists of tasks that need to be done, or breaking down the steps to a task on a card such as how to do laundry. Some good books about supports for independence are Adults on the Spectrum Leave the Nest or Life and Love: Positive Strategies for Autistic Adults.

Keep the profile in mind when thinking about employment or higher education. Examine what the weaknesses in a work or university/college setting might be and assess what help might be needed to create success. We can help this population be successful, but we also need to recognize what makes them vulnerable as well.

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