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A Brief Comment On The Attention Span Of Adults With Autism Spectrum Disorder

attention span in adults with Asperger's
The attention span of many adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder is different from the multitasking type often attributed to people on the spectrum

Due to unanticipated circumstances, my blog this week will be shorter than typical. I will return at the usual time in two weeks with a new blog of normal length.

Over the years, a number of people have commented to me about the remarkable ability of adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder to perform more than one task, or activity, at a time, a proficiency we refer to as multitasking. This ability is seen as the core reason for the high-efficiency many Autism Spectrum Disorder adults display in complex, multi-step tasks, computer programming being a model example.

My impression of adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder is different. I don’t think they are appreciably better at multitasking. In fact, I believe the ability of ASD adults to multitask encompasses just as wide a range, from poor to excellent, as is the case in the general population. In other words, an adult with Autism is as good or as poor at multitasking as anybody else.

What they do tend to be good at, in my opinion, is focusing. Many adults on the spectrum are able to concentrate on a problem or activity to a greater degree over a longer period of time than many other people. They can take a computer problem, for example, with many interconnected elements, and develop code in a sequential pattern that addresses and solves those associated elements.

This continuous, linear problem-solving approach is, in effect, the opposite of multitasking, requiring an attention span different from that needed to hold multiple component parts of a problem in one’s mind simultaneously.

It is neither better nor worse than multitasking, simply different. And plenty of evidence indicates it is highly efficient and extremely effective in many important real-world, tasks.

You can read more about this topic here.


Dr. Kenneth Roberson

Dr. Kenneth Roberson is an Adult Autism Psychologist in San Francisco with over 30 years of experience. Click below to ask a question or schedule an appointment.

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