Thinking and Learning Style

The ‘default’ or dominant thinking style for most people tends to be symbolic and imaginative.  We store the meaning or gist of what happens, structure what we learn and when ‘remembering’, we re-create the memory from stored information.  Most people can be flexible and organised, learn from mistakes and imagine things they have not experienced.  We recognise similarities and from experience apply tried solutions to new problems.  Typical students with normally functioning memory and recall can usually work away from the teaching setting, can stop and start pieces of work and so approach their coursework assignments flexibly and reflect on what they have done.

People with AS tend to have developed along a parallel but slightly different route.  Their ‘default’ or dominant thinking style tends to have recall being closer to ‘reliving’. Their memory and recall, which can be extremely good for details, is less good for developing a generalised ‘over-view’.  The difficulties they experience are in:

  • organising themselves and their work, learning new routines or timetables coping with changes (Their personal routines can over-ride others.)
  • empathy for other people, (sympathy maybe, but not real empathy)
  • understanding what other people think, feel, mean so they do not get ‘the point’ or understand the ‘purpose of a task’,
  • develop a single, or a consecutive series of, intense interest(s) that can interfere with other things they ‘should’ be doing,
  • self knowledge and awareness i.e. ‘who and what I am and how I feel’.
  • struggle to understand the meanings, motives and perspectives of others.
  • learn things by ‘noticing’ what other people do, i.e. ‘common knowledge’,
  • striving for absolute perfection, (Work can be finished and good but not handed in.)
  • have a poor awareness of danger,
  • remembering knowledge and skills away from the educational setting.  This affects homework, coursework and exam’ performance.

The differences in thinking and learning style mean that they tend to:

  • experience every problem as a fresh new problem with no familiar strategies to begin to help them solve it.
  • perceive details rather than generalised patterns and accrue/accumulate information more easily than developing generalised constructs and, struggle to structure their learning or link ideas together,
  • struggle to stop doing one thing and start another and, have to do things in the order they are set.
  • struggle to monitor themselves, their thinking or, time passing whilst they are working on an activity,
  • struggle to make choices, prioritise work and personal interests and, imagine / anticipate the consequences of their actions,
  • not start a piece of work until they know how to start, when to stop and understand all the steps in between.
  • struggle to proof-read and evaluate their own work or recall the reasons for choices and decisions.
  • experience a significant time lapse between an event, understanding it and responding to it,
  • experience greater difficulty, than you would expect in some one with their level of ability, in developing understanding just by reading about a topic.

Memory and Recall

When memories are created quite a complex mix of processes are employed.  Generally most if not all of the processes are spontaneously triggered by environmental and social factors.  During an approximately 4 week period events and information are encoded in long term memory.  Intricate generalisation and links between new information and that already held takes place alongside the recording of the links between it and details of the context in which it was ‘acquired’ (relational memory).   So, on recall, associated information is usually available to the individual as well as the particular piece of information.  The social aspects and implications of an event or information are important elements included in the memory creation.  The type of memory generally referred to as ‘rote learning of facts and figures’ also occurs.  Most people also have sensory memory and recall, which if vivid enough will recreate sensations linked to an event; this is not a dominant form of memory in most people.  In AS the balance between these different types of memory is different.

Some important elements that do not work as effectively for people with AS are:

• working memory ( this is not the same as the short term memory measured by digit span tests)
• the categorisation and organisation of information that depends on good executive function and ‘central coherence’ processes,
• including social aspects of and the knowledge relating to context associated with the conditions with facts or specific bits of information they acquire. Later as they try to put information into context, it gets harder and harder to so.
• processes that involve self (self- referencing); people with AS can tend to recall what they have done less well than what they see others doing
• processes that allow effective unprompted recall. (‘It’s in there somewhere’ but only the right question or prompt triggers recall.)
• recall of complex patterns and temporal information

This means that they are less likely to:

• amplify answers to questions in the usual way,
• recall information associated with an event or topic as fluently as expected for someone with their level of knowledge and ability,
• note and recall the social expectations and implications that others absorb automatically i.e. the general knowledge and understanding of the expectations of a given setting or reasons for a task simply do not necessarily ‘register’ with them,
• volunteer all relevant information to help solve a problem

It also means that they are more likely to:

• have good recall of isolated facts
• relive than recall events, but still struggle to extract full meaning or all implications
• misinterpret the expectations and reasonings that other’s often share
• benefit from working in parallel with a suitable partner, as long as they are comfortable with this  (It helps if they are better than their partner and can take the lead or give help.)
• benefit from links between topics being made clear
• benefit from information they are required to recall and act upon being made explicit and if necessary be related to them individually, in a suitable manner.

It is important to note that with appropriate support and strategies, which are not necessarily complex, either during ‘an event’ or when teaching, memory and recall appear to be far less impaired.  That is, if help is given to structure the information and its future applications ‘on the way in’ recall is improved.

Start/Stop, Drafting and Planning Problems

The start/stop difficulty experienced by people with an asd affects daily life and education.  Unless they know exactly what it is they have to do, know how and when to stop and, all the steps in between, many students will not be able to make a start on a piece of work or an activity.  This means that extended pieces of work set in stages might not be started until close to a deadline because they did not yet understand, or have all the information about, the whole process.

Most students can act upon partial knowledge or experience and can repeat or adapt their work as they learn more.  This is very difficult for students with an asd.

In addition, once a piece of work has been completed students with an asd find it very hard to go back and change it.  When restarting, unlike most students, they cannot easily pick up from where they left off, nor do they readily restart at a mid point.  They have to go to the beginning of the thought or piece of work and start building it up all over again.  This means that drafting and redrafting is extremely difficult for them and what they hand in usually has to be complete.

In design and media subjects it can be very hard for students with AS to develop pilot / initial ideas.  Sometimes this is because their ideas arrive in their conscious awareness fully formed at other times it can be because they cannot function until they know what the whole process / concept / product is and why it is appropriate.

Homework and Coursework Problems

Homework and Coursework Problems

Memory function is affected by AS.  Unprompted recall of associated facts is poor so when students go away from the setting they can genuinely fail to access the understanding gained earlier.  Then they cannot begin the work without support or prompting.  Many students with AS are exhausted before the end of the day.  This adds to the difficulty of remembering and doing the ‘homework’.

Failure to do work away from campus can also happen because the student did not actually understand the purpose of task but were not able to ask for or understand further explanations.

It might be that the whole purpose of independent work was not understood at school.  So the student arrives at University less well prepared for independent working. The support they need can therefore include strategies and explanations that seem to be surprisingly elementary or trivial.  (Of the ilk – have you not learnt that yet!?)

Some students have narrow definitions of different settings i.e. college is for study, home is for rest. Working ‘at home’ can be perceived as illogical and wrong.  This can mean that they struggle to do course related work in the evenings or at weekends; outside timetabled time.   Also, for example, where many students begin their final year dissertation during the summer period, some students with AS simply cannot do this.  This does not affect all students with AS, some will be the opposite and want or need attention from staff at any time in the academic year!

The difficulties that students with AS experience in education are partly inherent to the condition but are also due to the expectations and assumptions of the majority.  None-the-less they can be able and high achieving individuals with interesting and useful perspectives.

Sensory Awareness and Integration >>

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