I despise the term “splinter skills” to demean the talents of autistic people as something other than the talents that they are.
When I was in preschool, one of my “splinter skills” was singing. In preschool, I spoke zero words, but I sang all kinds of songs. I sang them well, well above my age of three and much better than any of the other children at school. I learned them fast, much much much faster than any of the other children at school. I performed them strongly, so much so that the people who knew me only from my song-and-dance numbers commented that I was a natural-born performer who should become a singer or a dancer when I grew up.
In other words, I had a natural talent for music.
Because I was surrounded by people who knew nothing at all about autism, my talent for music was treated as such. My musical talent was recognized and encouraged, and I enjoyed participating in musical activities for many years, singing songs, playing music, being myself, and having fun.
Hear the music! Make the music! Be myself! Have fun!
Strong and simple and pure, that was all there was to it.
Had I been surrounded by people who knew something about autism, however, things would have been different, very different. Had I been surrounded by people who thought that they knew something about autism while knowing nothing at all about autism, things would have been very different indeed.
According to them, my talent wouldn’t have been a talent at all, not at all a natural ability of mine showing a natural intelligence of mine. Instead, my talent would have been a “splinter skill”, a strange inexplicable islet of ability in a deep dark sea of suck, the all-around sea of suck of Big Bad Autismism, in which any islet of any ability was a bizarro-world circus-freak thingamajigger that was not a mindful meaningful talent, but a mindless meaningless “splinter skill”.
Instead of singing well because I had a good ear for music, a natural talent, I would have been a child who had a “splinter skill” for singing inspite of not speaking.
(Yeah, whatever, she sings, but she doesn’t understand any of the words that she’s singing. She has impairments in receptive and expressive language, y’know.)
Instead of learning fast because I had a good musical memory, a natural talent, I would have been a robotic parrot who had a “splinter skill” for mimicking sounds with robotic proficiency.
(Yeah, whatever, she copies, but she can only ever copy, never create. She has a lack of imagination, y’know.)
Instead of performing strongly because I felt the music strongly, I would have been a socially aloof autistic child who had a “splinter skill” for emerging from her shell for a few minutes at low tide, high tide, or whatever height of tide caused socially aloof autistic children to emerge from their shells for a few minutes during the tidings.
(Yeah, whatever, she performs, but that’s just her being autistic and too socially oblivious to be nervous in front of an audience. She has deficits in social cognition, y’know.)
Some way, somehow, my “splinter skill” would have indicated some kind of deep dark deficit somewhere in my brain, and it would not have been thought of as what it was, a mindful meaningful talent that I enjoyed with all my mind and for all its meanings that were meaningful to me, a true talent just like any true talent that any typical child would have if they were doing the exact same thing.
What is the difference between a “talent” and a “splinter skill”, exactly?
Why exactly is something, the exact same thing, a “talent” for a typical child and a “splinter skill” for an autistic child?
What exactly is “splinter” about a “splinter skill”?
Is it that it is so very weird for an autistic child to have skills, any skills, that we have to call their skills “splinter skills” to indicate how very weird it is that they have skills, or is it that their skills are so weird, so very weird, that we have to call their skills “splinter skills” to indicate how very weird their skills are?
From my perspective, “splinter skills” like musical ability, artistic ability, mental calculation, and exceptional memory are some of the normal natural talents of some of the normal autistic people in the world. So are other “splinter skills”, even more “mindless” and “meaningless”, like memorizing baseball statistics, memorizing public transportation schedules, memorizing doorknob model numbers, and memorizing the patterns of black and white of the sunlight upon the squares of the window screen at different times of the day and year.
To me, there is nothing “splinter” about “splinter skills”, nor are they mindless meaningless rituals performed meaninglessly with mindless robotic proficiency. They are natural normal talents, and the autistic people who have them have brains that happen to have them, just as the typical people who have them have brains that happen to have them.
Of course I would sing well, if my brain heard each and every song, pitch-by-pitch, in all its details, clearstalcrys. That is a good ear for music, and it is a natural and common trait amongst autistic people, many of them untaught and untrained.
Of course I would learn fast, if my brain remembered music, pitch-by-pitch, in all its details, clearstalcrys. That is a good musical memory, and it is another natural and common trait amongst autistic people, many of them untaught and untrained.
Of course I would have a good eye for detail and a good visual memory, if my brain saw in the same way that it heard. That is detailed sensory perception, and it is yet another natural and common trait amongst autistic people. According to some hypotheses, it is a defining characteristic of the autistic brain. Therefore, any advanced abilities arising from one of the defining characteristics of the autistic brain are natural talents of the autistic peope with the autistic brains.
So what is so “splinter” about a “splinter skill”?
So nothing is so “splinter” about a “splinter skill”.
There is no “splinter”, and there are no “splinter skills”.
Instead, there are just skills, natural talents just as mindful, meaningful, and enjoyable to autistic people as the same are the same to anyone else of higher or lower functioning or higher or lower IQ.
I can sing songs and enjoy them for their sounds, their pure perceptual sounds, as much as I can do the same for the meanings of the lyrics.
I can read and remember words and enjoy them for their forms, their pure perceptual forms, as much as I can do the same for the meanings of the stories.
I can memorize doorknob model numbers, and I can recite them without knowing what they mean, and I can have lots of fun doing it too.
Actually, I don’t memorize doorknob model numbers, nor am I at all interested in them, even though I keep mentioning them on my blog. Wherever it says “doorknob model numbers”, think “baseball statistics” instead. I have an obsession with baseball statistics, as well as a delusional belief that my extremely enjoyable memorization of baseball statistics was partially responsible for the Red Sox winning the World Series in 2004 and 2007. The reconfiguration of atmospheric molecules caused by the increased respiratory rate of my lungs caused by the increased oxygen consumption of my brain caused by my intense obsession over Red Sox baseball statistics must have contributed something to Dave Roberts stealing second, right?
Reconfigure [Big Letter, Small Letter] (SplinterSkill) = Splinterskill
Reconfigure [Small Letter, Big Letter] (Splinterskill) = SplintersKill
OMG, I knew they were ebil!
Down with SplinterSkill! No moar SplintersKill!
Talent 4evar and evar and evar!
(I admit that the talented singing bunny looks kinda sorta creepy, all kinds and sorts of creepy…insert Twilight Zone music here…)