Do you know the origin or history of the term splinter skills?
July 15, 2013 10:03 AM   Subscribe

I had never heard this phrase before and came across it in an article about autism. Curious about it, I searched online, but was unable to find much.

In case you also have not heard the phrase, one definition I found is: An isolated ability that often does not generalize across learning environments. These abilities are often widely discrepant from other areas of functioning.

Is it a recent phrase, or just one that hasn't trickled down amongst laymen yet?

Is it used solely in reference to autistic individuals?

Was it coined by a particular psychiatrist?
posted by abirdinthehand to Writing & Language (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You asked if it is used solely in reference to individuals with autism. I have read reports using that phrase for a variety of diagnoses, so I'm inclined to say no.

But I'll gladly defer to a psychologist on its usage. Unfortunately, I can't address your other questions, except to say it's been in use at least as long as I've been in the SLP field (seven years).
posted by absquatulate at 10:21 AM on July 15, 2013

I'm a speech language pathology student, and I use/hear this phrase. It's not used only with autism. I've been hearing it since I started my program (about five years ago) so it's not terribly new.
posted by Ideal Impulse at 10:23 AM on July 15, 2013

Psychologist here. It's an old term, I'm not sure exactly how old, but certainly in the multiple decades of use in the literature. It's not applied only to autism, but that is one clinical population that you expect to see such skills more often. If you investigate "savant" skills you may find earlier uses.
posted by goggie at 10:42 AM on July 15, 2013

I've found a few sources attributing the phrase to Dr. Newell C. Kephart. The earliest uses I've found at Google Books are from 1960.
posted by Knappster at 10:53 AM on July 15, 2013

I have more or less the same findings as Knappster. I'm betting that it was coined and/or gained widespread prominence in Kephart's The Slow Learner in the Classroom, originally published in 1960 and reprinted multiple times over the following ten years.
posted by mhum at 5:25 PM on July 15, 2013

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