I am on the Autism Spectrum and I’ll just say I like working on puzzles. As for how good I am, it depends on the puzzle. Easy Sudoku – a champ! Hard Sudoku -not so much. I look up some of the answers to the hard ones to downgrade them to “easy” so I can solve them instead of leaving them unsolved.
I read an article by Alex Durig, a Ph.D., author of numerous books about autism, who wrote that people with autism will often enjoy doing puzzles. Our love of puzzles may take many different forms. In fact, the autistic love of puzzles may offer a clue to understanding autism.
Now just because a person has been diagnosed with autism does not mean they will automatically love doing crossword puzzles. However, if you know someone with autism, then there is a good chance that you might be able to strengthen your bond with them by finding out what kinds of puzzles they might enjoy doing. In some larger sense, the act of playing video games may be considered as a form of puzzle solving. I know from working as a substitute aide in autism classes, video games is popular with many children with autism.
Durig writes that everything about video gaming requires one to find the best path of action, solve relevant clues, and pursue the challenge with focus. People with autism may often have the ability to go into hyper-focus. If a child with autism goes into hyper-focus to ‘solve’ a video game, a fire truck could ride right by them and they would not notice. Thus, hyper-focus is a common trait among people with autism that lends a great advantage to being able to solve even the most difficult puzzles.
If autism is a puzzle for social people, it may also be said that social life is a puzzle for us with autism. For example, in the movie “Rain Man”, Dustin Hoffman played Kim Peek, an autistic savant who was able to multiply numbers as fast as a computer and give the correct answer, no matter how large the numbers were. However, he was unable to make change on a dollar. Why could he do one and not the other?
Making change on a dollar is a more complex social transaction that requires more than mathematical computation. It also requires the ability to perform on command, and that kind of social expectation may elude the person with autism. Even before I knew I was on the Spectrum, I realized I could not think fast on my feet. In middle school, I had the job of selling milk in the cafeteria. I was hampered by having to figure out the change to give back right there on the spot. I made “A’s” in math but struggled with making change.
Durig also wrote that research indicates that people with autism tend to excel at, or favor, tasks requiring deductive reasoning. Indeed, their talent for deductive reasoning might be what underlies the phenomenal ability among people with autism to work puzzles. This penchant for deductive thinking may make people with autism seem more like computers than people sometimes. Indeed, an autistic person with super-computer thinking might just be the biggest puzzle master in a parent or teacher’s life. And that’s why puzzles may offer a clue to understanding autism.