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I am not a teacher. I'm an adult with learning disabilities. I have autism and memory problems. As a child, I was way behind and stuck in SLD, where the teachers had little interest in teaching, so I learned nothing. Nor did I have an interest in learning, until I.. Well, had stolen a science book from a class room, 3 grades up, and I began doing the work out of it on my own for fun.

Now I'm an adult and have made nothing of my life but I've found a new obsession and that's to learn everything I can about computer science, but it's not that easy to teach myself. I find it frustrating but I keep going. My question is, is it even possible for someone like me (who can't even do math) to learn, remember and deploy what I learn? Should I just give up? I would like to have a job in the field some day, but I feel I'm just not good enough to try any more.

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    $\begingroup$ Do you have anyone that you trust to advise you? Especially a trained counselor? I'll have some advice in a bit, but it would be good to know that, at least. $\endgroup$ – Buffy Nov 17 '18 at 18:45
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    $\begingroup$ No I don't. I'm doing this all on my own. I don't even have friends. I've got Google and YouTube. I wish i could afford to hire a teacher but disability isn't enough to eat off of consistently. Some simple work books that are inexpensive and for beginners would be good but i don't know where to start. $\endgroup$ – Ron Swartz Nov 18 '18 at 18:49
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    $\begingroup$ I would bet that most successful programmers are 'atypical' and learned mostly on their own. That makes you normal. $\endgroup$ – Scott Rowe Nov 24 '18 at 17:16
  • $\begingroup$ Keep it up. Success in this field is all about puzzle solving over time. I found that the hyper focus and limited panesthesia that comes with autism is a great aid for learning these concepts. I compensate for my memory and language processing issues with copious amounts of whiteboard drawings and notes. $\endgroup$ – pojo-guy Nov 27 '18 at 13:36
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Do it for the fun of it

You say that you have made nothing of your life; You say that you have an obsession with learning CS. If so then what does it matter what the outcome is. If you enjoy it then continue to learn.

It's not you

I used to have a learning disability, but then I got a new teacher.

You seem to blame your self. Autism is not a bad thing, is is a different thing. Just because you teachers did not know how to teach you, it does not mean that you are unteachable. You showed that, when you stole that science book. I did the same think with a maths book, when in year 6. I was expected to work my way through what seemed like an endless supply of maths books. One day I took the last book several grades above where I was working. I was motivated and completed the book, I then stole the teachers grading book and marked it my self (the teachers would not help). I had got close to 100%. It was at this point that I realised that my disability was the teachers. Shortly after this I changed school, and made a lot of progress.

Autism and programming

As a software engineer I worked with a lot of people. I have Dyslexia, some were normal, some were jerks, some had autism, etc. The people with autism and some others, were not good at working with the wider company, but were very good programmers. We protected them from people they did not know well, because we valued them. We could give them jobs that they could do better than the rest of us. Everyone has strengths, but they are not all the same. Don't judge yourself or others by what they can not do, but by what they can do.

What to learn

Most importantly learn what interests you.

You have a massive advantage, because you are not aiming toward exams, or work targets. These often cause people to take short-cuts across the swamp, and to get stuck. You can learn in a way that maximises learning.

“Someone like me”

If you believe you can, or if you believe you can't, then you are correct; Your belief in your ability has a very big affect on what you can do, so carry on with you positive thinking. And when you mess-up (because you will; we all do), then just try again. Success is the ability to continue in the face of failure.

Have a watch of this video https://www.ted.com/talks/carol_dweck_the_power_of_believing_that_you_can_improve?language=en

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  • $\begingroup$ Have a look at Gnu/Linux. Debian is good. You may find it less frustrating than Microsoft's Windows, there is a lot to learn, and the journey is easier. $\endgroup$ – ctrl-alt-delor Nov 18 '18 at 15:15
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Yes, I think you should stick with it. There is much you can learn and achieve.

There are different routes you can go depending on what you are comfortable with doing. You could continue to learn informally or you could try and enter a formal program of education at an appropriate level. As mentioned by @Buffy it might be useful to have someone who can assist you in thinking about the best path.

It also depends on your final goal - do you want to just work with computers or do you want develop new computer hardware or new computer software, or do you just like the problem solving?

Some paths to working with computers, particularly computer science might need some school level qualifications in things like science, maths and English. Although you found these hard before, now you are older you might be able to make progress. I don't know about your locality but in many areas there are colleges that can help adults who are late returners to education to get the necessary catch-up.

However it may not be straightforward for you. I know some adults on the autistic spectrum have had such traumatic experiences in earlier school that returning to formal study would be one of their stress points.

The start for computer science is to begin with the basics and learn how simple computers work and not get bogged down in the detail of modern computers. You can then build up from that basic. Building computers from parts, installing operating systems and doing hobbyist activities, perhaps by finding a local group is also another possible route.

There is so much to learn by just working with computers that I (and others around here on Stack Exchange) have been doing it for some considerable time (half a century) and still learn new stuff about computers every day.

I think if we knew more about what motivated you we could give less general answers, but I wanted you to see that someone was thinking about how to help.


PS: I do work in higher education with students with learning disabilities, particularly on the autistic spectrum and see success stories every year.

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This may take more than one edit to finish. Please be patient.

There is no reason to give up. There are many highly ranked people in the CS community who are pretty far out on the autism spectrum. But they have learned to act productively. With effort, you can too. But it takes a lot of effort, as you know.

My first recommendation is to develop a skills assessment for yourself. What do you do well and what do you find hard. Your assets and liabilities. A trusted advisor can help you with this as he/she can see things that you miss. Then you want to apply your strengths to help overcome your weaknesses.

The most important thing, in my view, is not that you achieve any particular level of competence, but that you develop a satisfying life for yourself, whatever that is, and whatever that takes. Your post seems to suggest that it will include pushing yourself as hard as you can.

Since you believe yourself to have both poor math and CS skills, you may need to work on both of those. But you can do it together, and a bit at a time. But if you have a typical case, one of your strengths is that you can focus intently. That is helpful in both math and CS. Work on some CS idea/problem. If the math gets sticky, then go to that for a bit to work on the basics. Your progress may be slow at first, but that is true of nearly everyone.

Don't depend on memory alone for learning. Take lots of notes - and I recommend paper notes for it, not computer notes. Writing out ideas is a form of practice that will solidify the concepts in your mind. When you are out wandering about, make sure you have something to write on - such as a few index cards, on which you can capture ideas.

If social interaction is a big difficulty for you, you should also find ways to work on that. One way to interact with people without losing yourself is to learn to role-play the way actors do. You try to "become" someone that can interact freely, just by pretending you are someone else who has that skill. An important CS researcher/speaker/writer developed these skills by joining an acting group in which the roles were formalized. He is an excellent public speaker now. It will be psychologically very difficult at first, but this idea has been used successfully. I don't have quite the same difficulty, but improved my social interaction just by forcing myself to speak when I'd rather just "hide."

One thing you may need is an academic guide. The classroom may not be your most comfortable environment, but the stated curriculum of a college can give you a sense of what is important to learn so that you work toward meaningful goals.

(I'll try to improve this as I think of things)

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