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Teaching Science and Asperger's Syndrome

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With the exceptions of occasional crackpots, the selfish, the unkind, and the uncouth; and on rare occasions, the sheer lunatics that come and go, most of the members of this community are giving me an enormously valuable environment to exchange ideas.
Teaching has been a great pleasure for me for many years. Now, for the first time, I'm tutoring a boy that suffers from Asperger's syndrome. After a month now, I must say that it's been one of the most gratifying teaching experiences I've had so far. Things are going pretty well, good results keep coming, and everyone involved seems to be happy. We've started with maths. Every time he shouts “now I understand it!” is priceless. But he's emotionally vulnerable, and also gets quite anxious when he misunderstands something and gets embroiled in the wrong calculation. The verbal feedback is somewhat wanting, because he stumbles over words and speaks too quickly for me. So sometimes it takes me a while to realise what he really means. Any experience that any of you may have to share with me, any tips and directions, will be greatly appreciated. Especially heads-up when it comes to physics, which I'm kind of dreading.

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I don’t have any expertise in this space, but suspect volitility can be minimized by keeping things consistent. If he knows what to expect, when to expect it, and you keep delivering to those expectations then he’ll be more stable. Big things like the pace of lessons and the way you approach... time blocks for specific things...  Little things matter, too. Same time and place. Same table. Same lamp turned on. Same notebook. Etc. It’s the newness of things and when things dint map to their expectations that tends to lead to emotional outburst. 

Gotta watch Wapner at 4:30...

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I would add not to push for understanding when he gets stuck- if you find you are explaining some thing he just can't get, move on to some thing hes done well to reinforce the success already gained and write the instruction out for him in a simplified step by step format for him to look at before the next session. Takes the feeling of pressure off.

Don't dread the physics, he might surprise you.

Concept over detail to start with there may help.

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Thanks a lot to both of you. Expectations are very important is the main idea that I wasn't aware of. I forgot to mention that the classes are taking place as teleconference, due to Covid-19.

9 hours ago, iNow said:

Big things like the pace of lessons and the way you approach... time blocks for specific things...  Little things matter, too. Same time and place.

As to the big things is seems I've somehow got it right. Maybe it was intuition. As to the little things it seems that his family already are taking care of everything that's not under my control. I wasn't aware of this.

9 hours ago, naitche said:

I would add not to push for understanding when he gets stuck-

I see. This particular boy is so keen on understanding things, that I don't need to press him at all. He often says, "don't tell me; I want to figure it out by myself!" That's not always a good idea...

9 hours ago, naitche said:

Don't dread the physics, he might surprise you.

Yes, he might. He's very intelligent. I just hope he doesn't ask me what time is... ;)

 

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13 hours ago, joigus said:

Teaching has been a great pleasure for me for many years. Now, for the first time, I'm tutoring a boy that suffers from Asperger's syndrome. After a month now, I must say that it's been one of the most gratifying teaching experiences I've had so far. Things are going pretty well, good results keep coming, and everyone involved seems to be happy. We've started with maths. Every time he shouts “now I understand it!” is priceless. But he's emotionally vulnerable, and also gets quite anxious when he misunderstands something and gets embroiled in the wrong calculation. The verbal feedback is somewhat wanting, because he stumbles over words and speaks too quickly for me. So sometimes it takes me a while to realise what he really means. Any experience that any of you may have to share with me, any tips and directions, will be greatly appreciated. Especially heads-up when it comes to physics, which I'm kind of dreading.

I’m an Aspie myself as well. I have no teaching experience, so I can’t give much advice in that regard, other than to say that us people on the spectrum often think in ways that are very different from how a neurotypical person would think about the same problem (which is why autistics often come up with unusual, outside-the-box solutions). For me personally, I often found that the way things are explained in standard textbooks and teaching methods just don’t work for me - so I need to go away and do my own research before understanding arises. This means that sometimes I have to consult a variety of different sources, and assemble the information in my own ways. Conversely, it sometimes also happens that I grasp very abstract concepts easily and immediately, whereas neurotypical people might struggle a lot with them. 

I should also point out that the social dimension of human experience can be very difficult for us Aspies, so expressing ourselves to others is always hard. Something might be very clear to us in our own heads, but we simply don’t know how to put it into words for other people.

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3 hours ago, joigus said:

Expectations are very important is the main idea that I wasn't aware of.

If you get really good at setting expectations, you'll find it helps with everybody on the spectrum (which I suspect is broader than we think and may include a lot more of us). It may simply work on everyone. It's the equivalent of someone like Elizabeth Warren always having a plan. It allows people to make their own plans based on yours, and it's very comforting and satisfying, and makes folks feel great about following your lead.

I recommend watching Hannah Gadsby's new Netflix comedy special Douglas if you can. She's been diagnosed with high-functioning autism, and she has this brilliant convention where she tells you EXACTLY how her standup show is going to unfold before she starts, in order to set your expectations as an audience member (I hope she continues this format in future shows). Then she does the show, and it's amazing how much funnier it is because you know what's coming. She also touches on several spectrum-related behaviors you should be aware of (beware the Puffer Fish).

Thank you for taking the extra time, and also for recognizing that the way these beautiful minds work is just different, not abnormal. Your student appreciates it more than they're probably telling you.

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, Phi for All said:

If you get really good at setting expectations, you'll find it helps with everybody on the spectrum (which I suspect is broader than we think and may include a lot more of us). It may simply work on everyone. It's the equivalent of someone like Elizabeth Warren always having a plan. It allows people to make their own plans based on yours, and it's very comforting and satisfying, and makes folks feel great about following your lead.

I recommend watching Hannah Gadsby's new Netflix comedy special Douglas if you can. She's been diagnosed with high-functioning autism, and she has this brilliant convention where she tells you EXACTLY how her standup show is going to unfold before she starts, in order to set your expectations as an audience member (I hope she continues this format in future shows). Then she does the show, and it's amazing how much funnier it is because you know what's coming. She also touches on several spectrum-related behaviors you should be aware of (beware the Puffer Fish).

Thank you for taking the extra time, and also for recognizing that the way these beautiful minds work is just different, not abnormal. Your student appreciates it more than they're probably telling you.

Nice post +1, I'll just add, in my work with differently abled humans, a good way to think of the differences; if a bus runs into a group of people, one extreme is, OMG how many people were hurt, while the other is, what colour is the bus.

The OMG's will never really understand the what colour's, and vice versa; all we can really hope is, we understand that there's a difference in all of us...

Edited by dimreepr

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You should be proud and commended for helping this kid, Joigus ( you too Dim, for your work with the differently enabled ).

I don't know of anyone  ( other than Markus ) who has Asperger's, or maybe I do, but because of the wide spectrum, I just don't realize it, so I'm really no help in the matter. Most of the information ( don't know how accurate ) comes from a 2016, Ben Affleck movie, The Accountant.

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3 hours ago, Markus Hanke said:

I should also point out that the social dimension of human experience can be very difficult for us Aspies, so expressing ourselves to others is always hard. Something might be very clear to us in our own heads, but we simply don’t know how to put it into words for other people.

I had you in mind, Markus, but I didn't want to press you for information, so I didn't mention you. Thanks a lot for your input.

This totally checks with what I'm experiencing regularly. Sometimes I explain something, give him an example. He seems to have zero problems understanding very difficult things, like transcendent operations, limits, and the like. Geometry is a piece of cake for him once he pictures in his mind what's to be done. Only once it was a bit painful when dealing with projection of one vector on another, because he was stuck in trying to solve the triangle a, b and a-b, when it was about the right triangle. It took me a while to realise what he was trying to do. It's language what seems to be more of a problem sometimes. Especially when I require him to tell me in words what the idea is. I try not to press too much about it. I just try to rephrase slowly and deliver more clearly. I do have the feeling that something more abstract and quite independent from language is going on in his mind.

2 hours ago, Phi for All said:

If you get really good at setting expectations, you'll find it helps with everybody on the spectrum (which I suspect is broader than we think and may include a lot more of us).

If you just knew how many times I've thought I may have suffered from some kind of very mild form of the autistic spectrum myself. I certainly had many problems with the way most people used innuendo, double meaning, and the like. Yet I was very skillful with language. My way of seeing it today is that what we consider autistic-spectrum diseases may be more usefully considered as a different or non-overlapping spectrum of cognitive abilities that render you inefficient at dealing with certain situations that pose no problem to other people, precisely because your brain is trying to weave a more complex and powerful structure than standard.

3 hours ago, Phi for All said:

I recommend watching Hannah Gadsby's new Netflix comedy special Douglas if you can.

I love comedy. It's helped me a lot in understanding language, its limits and its flexibility. So that's going to be part of my homework for the Summer.

3 hours ago, Phi for All said:

Thank you for taking the extra time, and also for recognizing that the way these beautiful minds work is just different, not abnormal. Your student appreciates it more than they're probably telling you.

You're welcome, and thanks back to you. I recognize this as a once in a lifetime opportunity. There are more comments I would like to make about these wonderful minds. I've met some of them while I was studying physics, but this is the closest encounter so far, and I'm loving every minute of it. :)

2 hours ago, dimreepr said:

Nice post +1, I'll just add, in my work with differently abled humans, a good way to think of the differences; if a bus runs into a group of people, one extreme is, OMG how many people were hurt, while the other is, what colour is the bus.

The OMG's will never really understand the what colour's, and vice versa; all we can really hope is, we understand that there's a difference in all of us...

Thank you. More comments coming, I promise. Something I've noticed (and I'm a novice in this) is that this boy does suffer! It's just that his way of suffering is different. He suffers when he notices that other people don't take things the way he does, and don't understand him.

2 hours ago, MigL said:

You should be proud and commended for helping this kid, Joigus ( you too Dim, for your work with the differently enabled ).

I don't know of anyone  ( other than Markus ) who has Asperger's, or maybe I do, but because of the wide spectrum, I just don't realize it, so I'm really no help in the matter. Most of the information ( don't know how accurate ) comes from a 2016, Ben Affleck movie, The Accountant.

Please, hang around, because your comments always prove very valuable. To be honest, I want to help this kid almost as much as I want to learn from him. ;) More information and observations coming in case you're interested.

  

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Posted (edited)
38 minutes ago, joigus said:

I do have the feeling that something more abstract and quite independent from language is going on in his mind.

This is exactly it.
For example for me, when it comes to GR, I can quite often intuit - and on occasion even outright visualise - some abstract concept, even though it happens in 4 dimensions and has no analogue in 3D Euclidean space. This is beyond language, beyond even math notation, and perfectly natural to me - but evidently not for most neurotypical people, as I keep noticing. 

Edited by Markus Hanke

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I assume your case is very mild, Markus.
You seem to have no problem communicating your ideas.
You translate the images in your mind very clearly into written word; whereas I sometimes struggle to clearly express even simple ideas, you explain the complexities of GR in very understandable terms.

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@joigus I think this boy is fortunate to have you as his tutor. I appreciate the value you find in the process.

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18 hours ago, Phi for All said:

She also touches on several spectrum-related behaviors you should be aware of (beware the Puffer Fish).

Thank you, @Phi for All. OK. I've been looking for "puffer fish+asperger" on the internet, and I think I may be starting to get a faint idea of what you mean. It may have to do with a day that he was overly defensive because he had been talking with friends on his social network and seemed to have felt "under attack." Is that what you mean?

 

7 hours ago, naitche said:

@joigus I think this boy is fortunate to have you as his tutor. I appreciate the value you find in the process.

Thank you, @naitche. I just hope I don't let him down. The heads-up about the pressure on understanding and the one about expectations have been very valuable. Maybe the topics on which I'm a bit more faltering and I normally tend to try to wing it, I have to rehearse in advance so that the lessons convey an impression of easiness and smoothness.

14 hours ago, MigL said:

I assume your case is very mild, Markus.
You seem to have no problem communicating your ideas.
You translate the images in your mind very clearly into written word; whereas I sometimes struggle to clearly express even simple ideas, you explain the complexities of GR in very understandable terms.

That's something about @Markus Hanke that strikes me. He "sounds" on his writing pieces as very articulate indeed. So maybe he's practiced on language to the point of completely compensating for the verbal handicap.

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Thanks to all contributing to this excellent thread.

I have been watching with interest hoping to learn.

I am of the opinion that some of the members posting questions here are 'on the autistic spectrum' and that is the seat of the difficulty in communicating with them, not that they are 'cranks'.

Just before Covid struck here, I attended an excellent series of WEA lectures (supported by the Wellcome foundation) entitled "The Challenge of Diagnosing Psychiatric Disorders" partly to see if there was a better way for me to reach these people.

One point came out was that Asperger's was incorporated in the autism spectrim in the latest (2013) version of the classification bible   -  DSM-5

Quote

DSM-5 - American Psychiatric Association

 
 
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM5) The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM5) is the product of more than 10 years of effort by hundreds of international experts in all aspects of mental health.

 

The lecturer passionate about the subject,  also offers online courses.

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13 minutes ago, studiot said:

[...]

Just before Covid struck here, I attended an excellent series of WEA lectures (supported by the Wellcome foundation) entitled "The Challenge of Diagnosing Psychiatric Disorders" partly to see if there was a better way for me to reach these people.

One point came out was that Asperger's was incorporated in the autism spectrim in the latest (2013) version of the classification bible   -  DSM-5

 

The lecturer passionate about the subject,  also offers online courses.

Thank you, Studiot +1. I also have students with ADHD BTW, which is probably worth another thread --very different topic that I'm just mentioning. A crash course on these matters seems in order.

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18 hours ago, MigL said:

I assume your case is very mild, Markus.
You seem to have no problem communicating your ideas.
You translate the images in your mind very clearly into written word; whereas I sometimes struggle to clearly express even simple ideas, you explain the complexities of GR in very understandable terms.

Well, I'm not too sure what 'mild' in this context really means, but I'm certainly high functioning, and require no intervention or assistance to live a normal life. This is mostly because I have learned since childhood to mask my autistic traits to such a degree that most people won't be able to tell at first glance that I'm neurodivergent. 

In my case, I find it easy to express myself in written form; however, if we were in the same room, and I was asked to explain some GR concept verbally, then that would be much harder for me, especially if I didn't have time to prepare beforehand. And the subtleties and complexities of casual social situations will forever remain a mystery to me, even though I can outwardly play certain roles if necessary.

3 hours ago, studiot said:

One point came out was that Asperger's was incorporated in the autism spectrim in the latest (2013) version of the classification bible   -  DSM-5

This is a difficult subject, because the spectrum is so wide. Personally, I never thought of myself as having a disorder of any kind - I think of myself as neurodivergent. As being differently abled, rather than disabled. I consider it a gift, and if I was being reincarnated, and somehow given the choice, I would without a shadow of a doubt choose to be on the spectrum again, since for me the positives greatly outweigh the (nonetheless very real) challenges. I do recognise though that many others on the spectrum would disagree, since their autistic traits are more challenging for them, and they suffer from various comorbidities, such as ADHD and SPDs.

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4 hours ago, joigus said:

I normally tend to try to wing it, I have to rehearse in advance so that the lessons convey an impression of easiness and smoothness.

Just try to avoid getting frustrated yourself when your own expectations of how the lesson should go are not met. You put a plan in place, rehearse it, then during the lesson everything goes sideways... That's okay, too. We all like when things go to plan, but basically always be sure this is about his comfort level, not yours. Cheers.

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Posted (edited)
53 minutes ago, Markus Hanke said:

This is a difficult subject, because the spectrum is so wide. Personally, I never thought of myself as having a disorder of any kind - I think of myself as neurodivergent. As being differently abled, rather than disabled. I consider it a gift, and if I was being reincarnated, and somehow given the choice, I would without a shadow of a doubt choose to be on the spectrum again, since for me the positives greatly outweigh the (nonetheless very real) challenges. I do recognise though that many others on the spectrum would disagree, since their autistic traits are more challenging for them, and they suffer from various comorbidities, such as ADHD and SPDs.

I totally agree, as did our lecturer, he was very persuasive that current classification systems are very wide of the mark.

Interestingly his lectures were very well presented, although he spent quite a bit of time telling us that he was classified on the scale.

So yes, I think these alternative ways of thinking can be a gift and a great one at that, not a disorder at all.

My way of thinking is different again, and I'm not totally sure how it can be described in the context of free will. Edit (whoops wrong thread)

As regards communication with such persons, I suggest everyone is different so each communication must be treated on its merits, difficult and frustrating though that may be.

Edited by studiot

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3 hours ago, joigus said:

Thank you, @Phi for All. OK. I've been looking for "puffer fish+asperger" on the internet, and I think I may be starting to get a faint idea of what you mean. It may have to do with a day that he was overly defensive because he had been talking with friends on his social network and seemed to have felt "under attack." Is that what you mean?

Hannah Gadsby calls it the  Puffer Fish because it's a triggered defense mechanism. I think of it as a visceral frustration when you suddenly realizes that the perfectly engaging train of thought you were enjoying is NOT the club car full of people you thought it was. In fact, everybody else seems to be on a different train (an obvious, boring one) on a different track (going no place interesting), and you resent feeling like an intellectual hobo surrounded by baggage. Your train was SO COOL, and it was headed to amazing places, and you simply can't believe nobody else is on board, so you lash out. Swell up like a puffer fish.

I think we all have little unconscious tests we perform when we're talking to others that assure us everyone is on the same page. We can usually see when someone's eyes glaze over, or widen in shock. We hear sounds of agreement or skepticism. We can see small smiles, frowns, nods, shakes, and tilts that give us clues to how we're being received. I've noticed folks on the spectrum in my life often get so caught up in their thoughts that they ignore all the clues, or just don't look directly at you enough, so they're shocked when their audience doesn't "get it". And I can relate to that. It's very frustrating when you explain something clearly and concisely the way you understand it, and your audience doesn't arrive at the same conclusions. It must be doubly/triply frustrating when your audience clearly thinks you're being too testy about something they clearly don't understand.

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3 minutes ago, Phi for All said:

We can see small smiles, frowns, nods, shakes, and tilts that give us clues to how we're being received. I've noticed folks on the spectrum in my life often get so caught up in their thoughts that they ignore all the clues,

As I understand it, an inability to recognise 'social' clues like this is characteristic of these people.

You have to be a special type of person to be calm enough not to take this as rudeness, not easy for me.

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7 minutes ago, studiot said:

As I understand it, an inability to recognise 'social' clues like this is characteristic of these people.

I can't really say if it's a lack of ability, or a different choice based on criteria we aren't thinking about. What if their view of "social" is what's different, rather than their skills unraveling clues?

11 minutes ago, studiot said:

You have to be a special type of person to be calm enough not to take this as rudeness, not easy for me.

A person on the spectrum might think it's rude to stare at people so much. It may make them uncomfortable, so they don't do it to others automatically.

 

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1 hour ago, iNow said:

Just try to avoid getting frustrated yourself when your own expectations of how the lesson should go are not met. You put a plan in place, rehearse it, then during the lesson everything goes sideways... That's okay, too. We all like when things go to plan, but basically always be sure this is about his comfort level, not yours. Cheers.

Indeed, but TBH my experience of autism is on the more extreme end of the scale... non verbal, where one simple slip up can result in many days of self abuse; one example that stands out, leading up to christmass, someone forgot to open an advent calendar window and we had to protect him from himself, 24/7, until boxing day, when he played the piano like a maestro...

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2 hours ago, studiot said:

As I understand it, an inability to recognise 'social' clues like this is characteristic of these people.

You have to be a special type of person to be calm enough not to take this as rudeness, not easy for me.

As a person on the spectrum, I can confirm this. I am unable to read cues in social situations in the same way as neurotypicals do, who just seem to be picking them up effortlessly and without being conscious of themselves doing it. I simply cannot guess what goes through the other person’s mind, what their intentions are, what their mood or emotional state is, how a specific remark was meant, how I myself come across to them, etc etc. I can sometimes figure it out through reasoning and guesswork, but that takes effort and often leads to wrong conclusions on my part. This makes any kind of social engagement a minefield, and often I come across to others as indifferent, aloof, lacking empathy, or rude, though in actual fact I am none of those things. I just don’t respond to them in the way they unconsciously expect to be responded to, based on the equally unconscious assumption that everyone can read social cues. Hence the response I do give is not always appropriate to the circumstances, leading to potentially awkward situations.
Also, if I have to go through a great many social situations in a short period of time (e.g. a work meeting, a family engagement, a party,...) I eventually go into social and/or sensory overload, and need to remove myself from the situation quickly. I sometimes take days to recover from such overloads. It is not pleasant. 

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3 hours ago, Markus Hanke said:

I do recognise though that many others on the spectrum would disagree, since their autistic traits are more challenging for them, and they suffer from various comorbidities, such as ADHD and SPDs.

Overall, ADHD attitudes (I'm not sure they're as much a congenital condition, though it may well be) are much more of a problem for a good teacher or a teacher than intends to be a good one than neurodivergence in the form of AS. 

2 hours ago, Phi for All said:

I think we all have little unconscious tests we perform when we're talking to others that assure us everyone is on the same page. We can usually see when someone's eyes glaze over, or widen in shock. We hear sounds of agreement or skepticism. We can see small smiles, frowns, nods, shakes, and tilts that give us clues to how we're being received. I've noticed folks on the spectrum in my life often get so caught up in their thoughts that they ignore all the clues, or just don't look directly at you enough, so they're shocked when their audience doesn't "get it". And I can relate to that. It's very frustrating when you explain something clearly and concisely the way you understand it, and your audience doesn't arrive at the same conclusions. It must be doubly/triply frustrating when your audience clearly thinks you're being too testy about something they clearly don't understand.

Very detailed and interesting analysis.

3 hours ago, iNow said:

Just try to avoid getting frustrated yourself when your own expectations of how the lesson should go are not met. You put a plan in place, rehearse it, then during the lesson everything goes sideways... That's okay, too. We all like when things go to plan, but basically always be sure this is about his comfort level, not yours. Cheers.

Thank you. Yes, I think I'm in the clear in this respect. I've developed an attitude not to expect anything to go according to plan. It's nice if it happens to go, though. :)  

3 hours ago, studiot said:

You have to be a special type of person to be calm enough not to take this as rudeness, not easy for me.

Ha ha. I understand. I'm getting used to his "You got it wrong!!!" or "follow me?" :). If you understand where it's coming from, it's quite funny and endearing in a way.

I must say: I do not always follow him!

2 hours ago, dimreepr said:

Indeed, but TBH my experience of autism is on the more extreme end of the scale... non verbal, where one simple slip up can result in many days of self abuse; one example that stands out, leading up to christmass, someone forgot to open an advent calendar window and we had to protect him from himself, 24/7, until boxing day, when he played the piano like a maestro...

I suppose those extreme cases have to do with environmental factors aggravating the situation...

 

18 minutes ago, Markus Hanke said:

Also, if I have to go through a great many social situations in a short period of time (e.g. a work meeting, a family engagement, a party,...) I eventually go into social and/or sensory overload, and need to remove myself from the situation quickly. I sometimes take days to recover from such overloads. It is not pleasant. 

Look at it this way, Markus: I sometimes can't find a good reason to remove myself from social situations. You, on the contrary, can go back to your equations and your meditation in order to protect yourself. I know it's easy to say, but looked upon the right way, it's a gift!

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Posted (edited)

A tool to better help with the physics end of things is to use as many visual aids and simplified experiments as possible.

 For example Newton's laws becomes easy to visualize when you have a Newton spring scale.

 The more enjoyable a lesson is made through imaginative simple experiments the better the lesson sinks in.

 Something like GR would be trickier animations tend to help but a personal teaching aid I have used to help students understand the statement.

[math] g_{\mu\nu}=\eta_{\mu\nu}+\h_{\mu\nu}[/latex] 

Was to take three clear sheets of plastic. Draw a Euclidean  vector field on one sheet. Then draw a permutation such as a H+ gravity wave polarity on the second sheet then with the third sheet the resulting vector changes.

 Don't worry about exactness the idea is to get the generalized idea across.

Edited by Mordred

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