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What Does It Mean that Autistics Think in Pictures?

Monday, December 04, 2017


Autistics think visually, why this hinders good communication, and what you can do about it.Have you seen the Temple Grandin movie? She’s a high-functioning autistic who has built a life helping others understand autism. (She also specializes in understanding what spooks cattle). She’s written a book about thinking in pictures because that’s the only way she relates to the world around her. There are a number of good YouTube videos, like this one if you start at the 9 minute mark, that give you some insight into her visual thinking process.

Temple has an interesting example on how people think about church steeples. Most people think of a generalized image, but her mind flashes through images of existing churches at specific locations that she’s seen in the past. She never sees things in a generalized way, but sees very detailed examples.

Of course, we can all visualize to a degree. At least we call it that. We might see a color in our "mind's eye" when told to see red. What about a checked tablecloth? Or your first car? But we don't generally "think in pictures." We tend to use pictures, or little movies as methods of organizing data, along with words, emotions, feelings, and other types of thought.

Autistics on the other hand rely much more on pictures. This explains why they have a photographic memory or can focus on the minutest detail. As handy as thinking in pictures can be for certain tasks, it can be a disaster for interpersonal communication. Without words to go along with those pictures, we’re left wondering what they’re thinking about. Without empathy, they may ramble on about their topic of interest without realizing we can't see their picture.

For our Aspies it’s also extremely troubling that we can't see their pictures. How can they convey what they are feeling or experiencing?

If you’re a member of Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD Meetup

, please join us for the free international teleconference on Thursday, December 14th, at 2:30 PM PT. Our topic is:

What does it mean that autistics think in pictures? Bring your own examples of how your Aspies think in pictures. But if it makes no sense to you yet, don't give up. We'll keep translating for you.

If you’d rather have a one-on-one session with me and you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my Jantzen Beach office and schedule an appointment. I also offer online therapy if that works best for your busy schedule.



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