Pattern Thinking and the Autistic Mind

I am a pattern thinker. And a bit of an image-thinker. These are two very common ways of thinking for those on the autism spectrum. Neurotypical people typically think in words, meaning their thinking doesn’t have to be translated for them to communicate their thoughts. Autistics have to translate thoughts into words, which is why we are sometimes a bit slower with our language, a bit slower to respond.

It’s probably not too hard to imagine what it means to be an image-thinker. After all, “image” is part of the word “imagine.” But it’s quite another thing to have your thinking dominated by images, to have a series of images pop into your mind–and not just abstract images, but very specific, concrete images of things you’ve seen. When I go to remember something I’ve read, it’s not uncommon for me to literally see the page on which the sentence I wish to remember was written. As a result, when I go to look up a quote, I can almost always immediately find what I’m looking for, since I see the page in my mind.

Less easy to understand is pattern thinking. Until recently, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you how pattern thinking works, but I was fortunate enough to feel an insight coming on recently, and so I sort of observed what was happening when the pattern thinking insight occurred.

Basically, pattern thinking occurs when you have a great deal of information about a great many things in your head, and then you read just the right piece of information that ties it all together, that provides the insight–a tipping point is reached–and then you are bombarded by example after example after example of things that fit that pattern. In my case, I write them down, because when that occurs, I typically have an academic paper or even a book in mind. My book, Diaphysics, is full of examples of my pattern thinking at work, finding deep patterns others haven’t seen before (but confirm that, once I point the patterns out, they seem obvious).

It may not surprise anyone that I also think in words. I am a poet, after all. But even with my poetry, sometimes it’s the image which comes first. When I write a play, I can see the stage and the props and the actors as I write. And I mean that I can see them as though they were right in front of me. At the same time, as a poet and playwright who writes using regular rhythms and often uses rhyme, I also bring in my pattern thinking and use it for my writing.

In addition to all of this, I am also a bottom-down thinker rather than a top-down thinker, but that’s a post (actually two) for the future.


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