Introduction to Splinter Skills

Splinter skills are a fascinating and unique aspect of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). They refer to specific skills or talents that are significantly more advanced than the individual’s overall developmental level. This blog, written from a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) perspective, aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of splinter skills in children with autism, exploring their nature, causes, and implications for development and learning.

What are Splinter Skills?

Splinter skills in children with autism are abilities that stand out distinctly from their other skills. These skills are often atypical in their development, meaning they are unusually advanced or sophisticated compared to the child’s general abilities. Splinter skills can vary widely from child to child and may include talents in areas like memory, music, art, mathematics, or even mechanical skills.

What Do Splinter Skills Look Like?

Splinter skills in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are fascinating and diverse. They manifest as abilities or talents that are significantly more advanced than the individual’s overall developmental level. Understanding what these skills look like requires observing the individual’s behavior and abilities in various contexts. Here’s a detailed look at the characteristics and manifestations of splinter skills.

Characteristics of Splinter Skills

Advanced Abilities in Specific Areas: Splinter skills often present as advanced or highly developed abilities in specific areas, such as memory, mathematics, music, art, or even physical skills like puzzle-solving. These abilities are noticeably more developed than other skills at the individual’s age or developmental stage.

Inconsistent with Overall Abilities: These skills might seem out of sync with the individual’s general abilities. For example, a child with autism might have limited verbal communication skills but can play complex pieces of music by ear or solve intricate puzzles with ease.

Focused Interests: Often, splinter skills are associated with the individual’s intense and focused interests. They might spend a considerable amount of time engaging in activities related to their skill, showing remarkable concentration and dedication.

Manifestations of Splinter Skills

  • Exceptional Memory: Some individuals with autism may demonstrate remarkable memory skills. They might be able to recall detailed information, such as dates, events, or facts about specific topics of interest, with astonishing accuracy.
  • Musical Talent: Musical splinter skills can manifest as an ability to play instruments without formal training, an exceptional understanding of musical notes and compositions, or a remarkable talent for singing or rhythm.
  • Artistic Abilities: Artistic splinter skills might include advanced drawing, painting, or sculpting abilities. The individual might create detailed and sophisticated artwork that is unexpected for their developmental level.
  • Mathematical Skills: In some cases, individuals with autism might display advanced mathematical abilities. They could solve complex problems, understand advanced concepts, or show a deep interest in numbers and patterns.
  • Mechanical Skills: This could involve an innate understanding of mechanical systems, an ability to fix or construct complex structures, or a fascination with how things work, often leading to advanced problem-solving abilities.

Real-Life Examples

A child who struggles with basic math operations in school might be able to effortlessly assemble complex models or solve puzzles that require spatial and logical thinking far beyond what would be expected for their age.

Another child might have difficulty engaging in back-and-forth conversation but can memorize and recite entire scripts from their favorite movies or TV shows, showcasing an exceptional auditory memory.

Causes of Splinter Skills

The exact causes of splinter skills in autism are not fully understood. However, they are thought to result from the unique ways in which the brains of individuals with autism develop and process information. Some theories suggest that these skills may emerge as a result of the child’s intense focus or interest in a particular area.

Symptoms and Identification

Identifying splinter skills involves observing the child’s abilities and noting skills that are remarkably advanced for their age or developmental stage. For instance, a child with autism might have an exceptional ability to memorize and recall detailed information, solve complex puzzles, or play a musical instrument with little to no formal training.

Examples of Splinter Skills

Example 1: A seven-year-old child with autism might have the ability to play piano pieces by ear, despite having limited verbal communication skills and challenges in social interactions.

Example 2: Another child might demonstrate an extraordinary ability to memorize and recite detailed information about a specific topic, such as the names and characteristics of every dinosaur species, while struggling with everyday tasks like dressing or interacting with peers.

Treatment and Management Strategies

While splinter skills themselves do not typically require treatment, it’s important to balance the development of these skills with overall learning and social development. Strategies might include:

  • Integrating Splinter Skills into Learning: Utilize the child’s splinter skills as a gateway to broader learning experiences. For example, if a child excels in memory skills, use this strength to teach new concepts in a way that leverages their memory abilities.
  • Encouraging Well-Rounded Development: While nurturing splinter skills, it’s also important to focus on other developmental areas, such as social skills, communication, and daily living activities.
  • Collaboration with Educators and Therapists: Work with teachers and therapists to create an educational plan that acknowledges the child’s unique talents while addressing their challenges.

Supporting an Autistic Person with Splinter Skills

Supporting an autistic individual who possesses splinter skills involves a thoughtful and balanced approach that both nurtures these unique abilities and promotes overall development. Here’s a comprehensive guide on how parents, educators, and therapists can effectively support an autistic person with splinter skills.

Recognizing and Valuing Splinter Skills

Identify and Understand the Skills: The first step is to recognize and understand the nature of the individual’s splinter skills. This involves observing the person in various settings and noting the skills that stand out. For example, a child might show exceptional abilities in drawing or solving mathematical problems.

Appreciate the Skills: It’s important to value these skills as part of the individual’s unique profile. Celebrating these abilities can boost self-esteem and provide a sense of accomplishment.

Integrating Splinter Skills into Developmental Goals

Use Skills as a Learning Tool: Splinter skills can be integrated into educational and therapeutic goals. For instance, if a child excels in memorization, this ability can be used to teach new concepts or routines.

Encourage Exploration: Allow the individual to explore and develop their splinter skills in a supportive environment. This could involve providing resources, such as art supplies for a child who shows talent in drawing.

Balance with Other Developmental Areas: While nurturing splinter skills, it’s crucial to maintain a focus on other developmental areas. This includes social skills, communication, and daily living activities. For example, if a child is highly skilled in a particular academic area, it’s still important to engage them in social activities and teach them practical life skills.

Creating Opportunities for Growth and Engagement

Find Appropriate Outlets: Look for clubs, classes, or groups that align with the individual’s splinter skills. This not only provides an opportunity to develop these skills but also to socialize and connect with others who have similar interests.

Promote Social Interaction: Encourage activities that involve collaboration or sharing of skills with others. This can help in developing social and communication skills alongside their special talents.

Professional Guidance: Seek advice from professionals who specialize in autism and can provide guidance on how to best support and develop the individual’s splinter skills. This might include speech therapists, occupational therapists, or special education teachers.

Supporting Emotional and Psychological Well-being

Encourage a Sense of Identity: Help the individual understand that their splinter skills are a part of their unique identity. This understanding can foster a positive self-image.

Address Potential Frustrations: Be aware of any frustrations that may arise if the individual struggles in areas that are not their strengths. Provide support and reassurance, emphasizing their efforts and progress in all areas.

Family and Peer Support: Encourage family members and peers to support and acknowledge the individual’s skills and talents. A supportive social network can significantly enhance their emotional well-being.

FAQs on Splinter Skills in Children with Autism

What is the Difference Between Splinter Skills and Savant Skills?

Splinter skills are specific abilities that are notably advanced compared to the individual’s overall skill level, but they may not reach the extraordinary level of savant skills. Savant skills are rare and typically involve remarkable talents or intellectual abilities that are significantly above average.

Can Splinter Skills Change Over Time?

Yes, splinter skills can evolve as the child grows and develops. It’s possible for new splinter skills to emerge, or for existing ones to become more refined.

Should Parents Focus Solely on Developing Splinter Skills?

While it’s important to nurture and celebrate these unique abilities, it’s equally crucial to provide a balanced approach to the child’s development, ensuring they receive support in all areas, including social, communicative, and adaptive skills.

How Can Splinter Skills Be Used in Therapy?

In therapy, splinter skills can be used as a motivational tool or as a means to engage the child in learning. Therapists might incorporate the child’s splinter skills into various interventions to make them more engaging and effective.


Splinter skills in children with autism are a testament to the unique and varied ways in which these individuals experience and interact with the world. Understanding and supporting these skills, while ensuring a balanced approach to overall development, can lead to more fulfilling and enriched learning experiences for children with autism. By embracing these talents and addressing the broader spectrum of their needs, parents and therapists can help these children achieve their full potential.