This post is a followup to Let’s Talk About: Imagination and Modes of Thought. Partially because while I wasn’t entirely wrong about my “mode of thought”, I wasn’t exactly correct about it either; and partially because there’s a new Tumblr blog out there called “Autistic Thinking” that I recently stumbled across. The aim of the Autistic Thinking blog is to: “[describe] the different and possibly unusual patterns of thought and perception experienced by autistic people of all types. It’s meant to show how diverse we actually are, compared to the simplified ideas other people have of us”, to quote the blog description. And reading it, I got inspired to write this post, because of my recent ruminations about how exactly I do think.
So, let me start by quoting what I wrote about my mode of thought in the previous post on this subject, and then we’ll go on to what I’ve since figured out.
I tend to think mostly in words. (At least, at a conscious level.) Sometimes those words are actually visualized as text, sometimes they’re… not. I think. (I know that I definitely visualize them as text sometimes – usually against an ‘empty’ background, but I’m not sure if the rest of the time I’m visualizing them as a scroll-through that just goes fast enough I don’t realize it, or if they’re more abstract.)
I also sometimes think / imagine in visual scenes, but those tend to not really have a huge amount of detail. At least, not that I can recall. It’s more like a flash in which I get the gist of the scene, who’s in it, what’s going on; but not, oh, say, what clothes the characters are wearing, or details of the background, or whatever. So visual, but somewhat abstracted, is how I’d describe it. Colours tend to come through as light or pale (even if I know they’re actually intense), and there are sometimes “general” emotions attached. (I say “general” meaning the basic – happy, sad, content, tender, angry, frustrated, worried – set of emotions, without really any of the intensity or blending / mixing that you tend to get in RL, that is what I often have trouble distinguishing.)
I believe that there’s also a slight aural element – why I like listening to songs and the like when I’m being creative, and why it sometimes seems in my brain like I’m reading the visualized words out loud… but I also think that aural element might be easily disrupted. It would also partly explain why I react so badly to sound, where my primary hypersensitivity is actually visual.
I also tend towards analogies / metaphors that use concrete examples (or examples I consider concrete, which includes things like computer programs, because I understand the basics of how they work) in order to understand more abstract concepts (like habits of behaviour created in childhood, to go on with what I use the computer program analogy for).
I had most of the elements involved correctly there, but not the proportions, and I missed an element as well (or didn’t describe it well). So, here is what I’ve figured out since.
I’m a mixed mode thinker. About 60-65% aural (i.e. I think in words and hear the words as though they’re being spoken out loud); about 20-25% visual, and about 15-20% what I’ve taken to referring as “conceptual thinking”.
Aural Thinking: This is, as I mentioned above, mostly thinking in words and hearing them as though they’re spoken out loud. This is very much my primary mode of thinking, even though my primary sensory mode is visual rather than aural. And it’s very language-based, rather than general sound based, because it’s all words. And I can think in English and French (I was in French Immersion from age 5 to age 12, and became at least passably fluent in French… i.e. I can think in it, and even with minimal exposure since I was 17, I can still switch to thinking in French easily enough), and sometimes words from German, Latin, and Spanish pop up. (I learned Latin and German in high school, 3 years each, and Spanish I learned fragments of from visiting my parents in Costa Rica, not to mention the influence of French and Latin.)
This is also, I think, how I learned intonation (see upcoming posts on social thinking and paralinguistics, but basically this is the “emotional content” of your voice). Most of us (whether diagnosed as Asperger’s or Kanner’s Autism) have very flat intonation, and according to my mother, that’s what I used to have as well. But one of the ways in which the aural component of my thinking makes itself known is that when I’m reading, the words are scrolling through my mind as though they’re being said, with all the intonation, pauses, and other elements of speech that are involved in neurotypical verbal communication. I’m not sure, because I don’t remember – I didn’t even realize I used to speak in a monotone – but it’s quite possible that I figured out how to use intonation by matching my voice to the “sound” of my thoughts when reading out loud. However, this is just a possibility, not a certainty. Either way, I believe that might give people an idea of how the aural element of my thinking works.
This also means that when I’m writing, I tend to think in sentences and paragraphs, and sometimes my fingers can’t keep up with my thoughts. It also means that there have been times when I’ve had a narration of my actions going on in the back of my mind. Not often, but sometimes. It’s kind of weird. Usually any “narration” is involved in stories I’m working on, but there are times…. *shrugs*
Visual Thinking: As I mentioned in the previous post, I seem to have two different ways of thinking visually. The first usually occurs when I’m asked to spell out words – I have to close my eyes (unless I’ve spelled the word out frequently, like referring to bones when talking around the dog, or referring to certain things around children that they shouldn’t know about yet, like surprise parties) and I tend to see the word roll out in front of my “mind’s eye” as letters on a dark background. As far as I know, this never happens when I’m writing… just when I’m asked to spell words verbally. I think I may also do that when an unfamiliar word is mentioned – visualize what it sounds like in an effort to figure out what it means (see above re my learning Latin and German – I do love etymology) – but I’m not certain of that.
The second way involves seeing actual images in my “mind’s eye”. As I described in the previous post, the images don’t necessarily tend to be “complete”; the focus is very much on the important aspects of the image (which usually involves a story, and so focuses on the characters); and the colours all tend to be pale or faded, no matter how intense I know they actually are in “reality”. It’s hard to describe, because there aren’t necessarily words for how it works, and I think that there’s an element of my “conceptual thinking” (see next section) linked in there as well. In part because when I’m getting this kind of visual image, I also (again, as mentioned in the previous post) get a general “emotional” sense from the scene.
This visual thinking plays a part in my interest in 3D graphics. I sometimes get ideas for images that are a mix of aural description and visual imagery, and to get them out, 3D graphics seem to do the trick nicely.
Conceptual Thinking: Okay, this is a very complex element to the way I think, which is part of the reason it took me so long to get ready to do this post. (And the reason it took me so long to actually write this post after that has more to do with the events of the last few weeks….) A lot of factors are in play in this “thinking mode”, and it’s even harder to find words to describe it than with the visual thinking.
First of all, there is a kinesthetic (movement-oriented) element to it… but it’s so wound up in the rest of the “conceptual” element that I can’t isolate it as “this is a thinking mode of mine”. (Unlike one of my best friends, who seems to have kinesthetic mode where I have visual mode, at least in terms of percentages.) The kinesthetic element is probably best illustrated by the way I build mental maps of locations. I don’t get lost often (luckily, I don’t have the problem with identifying places that some autistics do), and my ability to build mental maps plays a big part in this. But while I can translate paper / visual computer / written directions into my “mental map”, none of that is how I perceive my mental maps. They’re a mix of “this movement series takes you here, and here’s an alternate movement series that can get you to the same place” – which is where the kinesthetic element comes in – and something that I’ve been grasping after words to describe ever since I figured this out. I still don’t have them. The best I can come up with is the “idea” of location – which is part of why I named this mode “conceptual” thinking. It’s more abstract ideas that don’t necessarily correspond to sensory input.
This is also where my tendency to use metaphors and similes to relate concrete examples to abstract ones seems to belong, in terms of “modes”. It’s very much a linking of concepts, which is the other reason I decided to describe this mode as “conceptual”. And as you can see from my percentage estimates, it’s very much a large part of the way I think.
In fact, I have the feeling that this mode is how my subconscious works… and also most of my problem solving abilities. While talking to myself about problems (or writing about them) seems to shake those abilities into action, I don’t seem to do the actual problem-solving through either aural or visual thinking modes. It’s a lot more abstracted than that. Once I’ve got a solution, my brain tends to translate it into one of the other two modes… but during the working out process, neither words nor images can really capture what’s going on.
And this is part of the problem with the way society expects people to be able to put things into words. There’s even a saying I’ve heard of, which basically goes that if you can’t explain a concept in your own words, you don’t really understand it. What happens when someone doesn’t have the words to explain it… because they don’t think in either words, or something (like visual imagery) that can be easily (or somewhat easily) switched over to words? Things I understand in my “conceptual thinking mode”, because they’re so abstracted, can’t be explained in words, not really. Not completely (see my example above regarding my mental maps concept). That’s part of where my use of metaphors and similes comes in. I may grasp a concept / idea with my “conceptual thinking mode”, but be unable to explain my understanding without resorting to metaphor. It’s also a way I can use to translate the abstracts of my conceptual mode to visual or aural mode. (Which may be one reason why I literally fell in love with the idea of metaphors and similes as soon as we started learning about them. It gave me access to… well, translation software for the different modes of thinking in my brain!)
At any rate, that’s pretty much as far as I can go regarding the description of my “conceptual thinking mode”. I don’t really know what else to say about it. *shrugs* Just… it is abstracted, and words don’t work too well to describe it, but it’s there, and it’s part of the way I think.
Anyway, the new parts of this post (about my now-correct ideas concerning my modes of thought) are going to be submitted to the “Autistic Thinking” blog, so any of you who follow both might see the details here re-blogged there. 😉
Also, this is a “Let’s Talk About” post… I would love to see more conversation going out about modes of thought. Do other people feel (from reading my description) that they have something like my “conceptual thinking”? Do you have other ways to describe it? Anyone who has kinesthetic thinking, how would you describe that? What about other sensory modes of thinking? Most of the world looks at three learning styles (which are linked to modes of thought, though not in 1:1 proportion, given that my learning style is primarily visual, with kinesthetic as a far behind secondary, and aural as a very far behind third): visual, aural, and kinesthetic. Do you know if there are better ways for you to learn, more linked with your own modes of thought?
And for those of you who are partially or non-verbal, I would love to hear from you in particular. What are your modes of thought? Are they hard to translate into words? Do you have to translate the way you think into words in order to communicate with the wider world? If you’re a visual thinker, do you find that things like PECS and imagery are easier to communicate with than words / writing? If you’re a kinesthetic thinker, is sign language easier for you? That sort of thing would be quite interesting to explore, I think. Particularly as in my case, the percentages don’t match up with the ease of communication / primary sense. In this case, am I the rule? The exception? Part of a majority? A minority?
As I said, I would love to hear from you. And even if you don’t have answers / want to answer the questions asked above, doesn’t mean you can’t comment. 🙂 I love comments. 🙂
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