Ways of thinking

There’s often a lot of talk about the way autistic people think. Anyone who’s heard of Temple Grandin has probably heard that she describes ‘thinking in pictures’ – her thoughts flick through her mind like photographs. Other autistic people say they think in words – with no visual element at all.

I’ve thought about this a lot, because I wasn’t sure whether I was a words or pictures thinker. I eventually decided that the reason I had trouble figuring it out was because I’m not a words or pictures thinker. I know that I don’t think in pictures, because I don’t visualise photo-real images of things. Not every thought has a visual element attached. I know I don’t think in words, because I have to translate my thoughts in order to communicate using words  – which is sometimes difficult to do.

I guess the best way to describe my thoughts would just be… concepts? My thoughts take the form of maths, logic, spatial relationships, sets, diagrams, graphs, and other non-verbal things. They aren’t visual in the sense of being perfectly accurate or precise images. The visual element (when it’s there) is just a way of representing the relationships between things.

This is why my thoughts are sometimes easy and sometimes difficult to translate. Certain types of concept are a lot easier to express in words. For example, we can easily say something like “there is more of this than of that”. Others are almost impossible to translate – at least not with any language I know (perhaps if I was fluent in advanced mathematical logic I would be able to express myself better!).

When I was first talking to my dad about autism and the inaccuracy of the linear spectrum, I ended up drawing endless graphs and diagrams to try and make my point. It took weeks before I was able to find the words to really explain myself, and even now I’m not sure I’ve quite said what I wanted to.

I often resort to using diagrams to express myself. Sometimes it works well enough to communicate my point to someone. Other times, just making the diagram concrete allows me to ‘read’ it and form a verbal description. And sometimes the thoughts are so abstract that I can’t find a way to visually represent them – it would require a four-dimensional graph or a moving animation or something else I can’t do with a pen and paper.

7 thoughts on “Ways of thinking

  1. I think like that too sometimes. But I think in lots of different ways. Sometimes I think in pictures, sometimes in words, sometimes in concepts, sometimes in feelings… it makes me wonder how people without autism think…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So I’m not autistic (however my son may be) but this is the first time anybody has accurately explained how I think. I only have trouble translating concepts into speech when I’m exhausted though. Then I tend to resort to waving my hands in the air pointing to imaginary flow charts and saying things like “The one thing, with the other thing, together, and they do that!” This amuses my very confused but loving husband. Anyway, I have nothing substantial to say except that it’s refreshing to have read your post. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one that thinks this way.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I call them thought shapes, and I store them in Web like structures that resemble dendrites. I was literally struck dumb when I found out what dendrites looked like. All this is organized by sound/vibration, with disparate but related concepts vibrating in harmony.

    Liked by 1 person

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