Ok, I have a confession to make, but this is very hard for me to admit….
Ok, maybe I was joking for just a minute, but this is something that I just rediscovered about myself that I felt was so natural to me, but I admit that I’m a visual thinker, like Albert Einsten and my Spectrumite mentor, Dr. Temple Grandin.
As she explains in one of her books that spawned the HBO auto-biography that bears her name: I think in pictures. As she herself explains it in My Experiences with Visual Thinking Sensory Problems and Communication Difficulties (which is visable here: https://www.autism.com/advocacy_grandin_visual%20thinking), visual thinking is:
…like playing different tapes in a video cassette recorder in my imagination.
Basically, it’s a visual encyclopedia of a Google Search which the filter is stuck on images and pictures instead of words and language. When I find myself driving in a new area or somewhere I don’t usually venture into, I’m always looking at Google Maps for a while to help me visualize where certain landmarks are so I don’t make a mistake while I’m driving. It also helps in my attention to detail at my job, where my attention to detail helps me see things that most people can easily overlook, as in the case of fellow Spectrumites such as Dr. Grandin, as she herself explains:
A brilliant autistic computer programmer told me that he visualized the entire program tree in his mind and then filled in the program code on each branch. A gifted autistic composer told me that he made “sound pictures”. In all these cases, a hazy whole or gestalt is visualized, and the details are added in a non-sequential manner. When I design equipment, I often have a general outline of the system, and then each section of it becomes clear as I add details.
That might make me look like I’m a bit scatterbrained at times, but that’s not to say that I haven’t attempted to adapt and make my visual thinking a strong point for me in my life. But it hasn’t been easy to adapt at times as it can be a little frustrating when people talk about street names, route numbers and everything else. It just makes a simple thing like visualizing landmarks, prioritization and organization seem so much more difficult. The reason I focus on landmarks as I’m driving is because, quoting Dr. Grandin herself again:
An object that is not in the person’s immediate surroundings should be used for this visualization procedure. When I do this, I see in my imagination a series of “videos” of different churches or cats I have seen or known. Many “normal” people will see a visual image of a cat, but it is a sort of generalized generic cat image. They usually don’t see a series of vivid cat or church “videos” unless they are an artist, parent of an autistic child, or an engineer. My “cat” concept consists of a series of “videos” of cats I have known…To retrieve facts, I have to read them off a visualized page of a book or “replay the video” of some previous event. This method of thinking is slower. It takes time to “play” the videotape in my imagination.
Imagine if you’re a visual thinker and you try to translate spoken language into images: things get lost in translation, misunderstood and scrambled making visual thinkers feel lost or scatterbrained. It’s all because we need time to translate your words into images which are easier to digest and process, as Dr. Grandin explains:
Visual thinking is not a fast method of thinking. It takes time to “play” the “video.” I am unable to instantly access my memory. An accountant with autism wrote to me and explained that he had to think slowly at his desk, but he could solve problems that were difficult for other accountants…I still have difficulty with long strings of verbal information. If verbal directions contain more than three steps, I have to write them down. Many autistics have problems with remembering the sequence of a set of instructions. Children with autism perform best with written instructions that they can refer to, compared to verbal instructions or a demonstration of a task, which require remembering a sequence of steps (Boucher and Lewis 1989).
After thinking it over and reading this article, my scatterbrainedness makes so much sense now, it’s an eye-opener; a revelation that takes a lot of weight off my shoulders.
My visual thinking isn’t a bad thing, but it is something that I know I can work on among others things, but I need support during those times. In fact, that’s what all Spectrumites need, we need time to think about what needs to be done (checklists are perhaps a good idea.) If not, then we rely on instinct to get stuff done, both in life and at work. But with understanding and support, know that we can do better, improve and let our lives…