I was recently fascinated while watching the biopic about innovator and activist, Temple Grandin. This groundbreaking animal behaviorist exemplifies high-functioning autism (also called Asperger’s syndrome). Grandin’s unique perceptions of the world, often facilitated by her autism, resulted in a fresh approach to more-humane slaughter techniques. Hugh Ross shares an interesting commonality with Temple Grandin: he is also a high-functioning autistic.
Today, much of the discussion about educating high-functioning autistic people focuses on helping them overcome their social challenges, which can be formidable. But Grandin and Ross have both expressed their hope that educators also provide an environment where those who are uniquely gifted in science and/or math—autistic or not—can flourish. Certainly, it can be a struggle to know how to channel the energies of any child with a high interest in a particular discipline of science or math. These students often need a constant stream of new information to engage their minds, and providing it can present a challenge for the adults in their lives.
I sat down with Hugh and discussed some practical ideas to help Christian educators nurture this precious intellectual resource for the Kingdom of God.
1. Provide library access. Hugh buzzed through the entire astronomy section of the children’s library before the age of nine. Rather than allowing his mind to languish, however, his parents wisely gained the librarian’s approval to move him along to the adult section. Today, parents and educators may want to direct motivated students to quality resources on the Internet, such as the NASA website and reputable university websites and iTunesU, which provides many college-level science courses for free.
2. Provide a forum to stimulate deeper conversations. More than a few kids attend Hugh’s “Paradoxes” Sunday school class each week. Even though this class is geared for adults, kids with a high interest in science often need high-level intellectual stimulation. This need might require parents to go beyond the normal church youth group experience and find (or start) an apologetics-focused class or small group. You can also check to see if there is an RTB chapter in their area.
3. Broaden exposure to scientific disciplines. Encourage these students to read and study beyond the (typically) narrow scope of their primary interests. They may discover connections that others would miss. Also, if possible, introduce them to researchers in the areas of their interest who can provide a vision of future career options.
One of Temple’s favorite sayings is that “the world needs all kinds of minds.” Children highly interested in science have the potential to be tomorrow’s innovators. Both Hugh and Temple offer amazing examples of what’s possible when gifted children are encouraged to excel in their area of interest, allowing them to be a little “nerdy” as they dig into scientific research, even if it’s off the beaten path.
For more on this topic, listen to the related podcast, "Engaging Kids with a High Interest in Math and Science."