It might be an Asperger’s thing. It might be an “everyone” thing … or it might be a “nerd thing”. Who knows?
All I know is that although I never actually get my left and right mixed up these days, if someone asks me to raise my left hand, there's a noticeable delay between the instruction and my compliance. In fact, I usually have to mimic writing (I'm left handed), in order to identify the correct hand.
It's been that way for as long as I can remember.
This was a problem that pretty much disappeared as I reached adulthood and I naturally presumed that I had conquered it. After all, as I said earlier, I don't get the directions wrong.. just slower and once you’re in real life situations rather than games, reaction times for left and right are less critical.
The problem did crop up a few times during my stint as a cub scout leader but again I put it down to poor hearing and the idea that I'm simply not very good at certain types of games. In any case, as the leader, I wasn't involved in actually “playing” the games very often.
What changed my mind on the whole thing was joining a Karate group and also doing some classes at the gym.
At karate, I can usually hear the sensei when he barks out orders but when they involve left and right, I still have to look at the others when they move in order to get my reaction time up.
The other interesting thing about Karate is that I've found that the only way I can mimic new moves as the sensei teaches us is to turn my body to face the same direction as his (while he is demonstrating) and then match my arms and legs with his. I can't look at him and easily reverse the movements and I can't do it all in one go. I have to do each part of the procedure individually - I can’t look once and automatically decide that he has both his right arm and right leg out. It’s a painstaking process that I never see the other karate people doing.
The GymThe gym class made everything much clearer. I mean it’s obvious that being a newbie at a high intensity class means that you’re going to be slower than everyone around you. It also means that you’re going to put the wrong leg out occasionally… more than occasionally.
In my case, I found that I couldn't match my movements to anyone. By the time I’d identified which leg they put out and put mine out, they had the other leg out. After a while, I started trying to identify the arm or leg that wasn't moving and trying to put that out instead. It worked a little better.
Of course, as things warmed up, I found that I couldn't match the speed of the class but mostly that I couldn't think about my arms and my legs at the same time. When I think about it, I suspect that it was evidence of issues in my vestibular system. Not so much balance as spatial orientation.
A TestSince I have two kids with Asperger’s syndrome (and they’re very different), I basically have my own “home laboratory” for certain kinds of social tests. I decided to run a couple of quick tests with my boys (and with my wife).
- Throwing an object and saying “catch this with your left hand” - this places a sense of urgency on the test and prevents a delayed but correct response from upsetting the results.
- Asking the kids to touch their right foot when they’re sitting on their feet (or sitting cross-legged).
- Asking them to pick something up with their right hand when they were walking past it.
What was interesting was that my youngest (12) got everything right first go, as did my wife. My eldest son (15) nearly always got things wrong.
There’s clearly something there that’s a clear difference between the two kids. It’s obviously not a core part of Asperger’s syndrome but it’s possible that it’s a co-condition.