Its ALL about the details!
Recent studies have shown the main differences in patterns of thinking between those who are “neurotypical” and those who are autistic is a matter of which comes first, the “big picture” or the details.
Neurotypical people ( NT) tend to notice and take hold of the general idea of any concept and then fill in details “as they go”. Generalization first, specifics to follow.
Autistic thinking patterns generally are to gather details as if they were clues and assemble them to create a complete understanding of the concept or idea.
Before we proceed we want to know as much as we can about it.
How does this work in every day living and communication?
I struggled with general concepts as a child. Vague non specific directions gave me fits!
Clean your room! (autistic thinking asks, ” how clean must I get it, clear it of clutter only? Sort the clutter or just get it out of sight in a closet or a drawer? Strip the sheets and take down the curtains, wash the walls? Wash the windows? Vacuum, dust, polish??? “)
Do the laundry! ( autistic thinking asks, ” just my laundry or the whole family’s? Just start a load or spend the day doing all of the stuff in the piles, drying, folding putting it away? Sort by color? Sort by fabric? Sort by family member? Can I put this set of dad’s work overalls in with mom’s best tablecloth?” )
Go get dressed! ( autistic thinking asks, ” play clothes, work clothes, dress up clothes?, are we going somewhere? What shoes to wear? Why can’t I find my favorite socks? I can put on my play jeans under my dress so I can be ready for anything! ” )
Walk the dog! ( autistic thinking asks “where should I take him, back yard, around the block, to the park? Should I use the long leash or the short one? How long should I walk him? Do I need my hat, coat and gloves? Should I bring baggies and his bottle of water and his dish?”)
There is a lack of understanding in the NT mind, that we NEED those details. It is not enough to state intent, it needs to come with specific information. Especially as a child with little experience in the world, statement of intent does not tell us what the expectations for each act we are told to perform are, nor does it explain how to do these things!
State intent, then be as specific as possible about expectations and give as much information as possible to any directions. This method still works best for me today at 68 years old.
As a young child, had to be taught in small and very specific steps to know how to clean each area of the house, how to do the laundry,how to iron each piece of clothing or linen, how to wash the dishes, what was expected of me when told to clean my room, how to empty waste baskets, take out the trash, How to use the vacuum, each specific chore had to be explained in detail.
Things that were evident to my NT siblings through observation were not obvious to me. Knowing today that I have very little neurological ability to process moving visual input, this makes more sense.
This pattern has continued all my life. If my husband says he wants to go to shopping, I need to know where we will go, what time we will leave, what are we buying?
If I must travel, I make lists of things to bring and I look up my destination on the map, view it on satellite programs, write down directions on how to get there, plan time of departure and arrival, think about where I will stop for rests, gas, and any other stops I might want to make.
Going to a meeting or program in town involves the same planning, how do I dress, what do I bring, how long will I be there, How do I find the place (mapping and perhaps even a day before recon if I am afraid i won’t find the place in time for the planned activity) Who will be there? How many are expected? Will there be food? What is the schedule for the program? Where will I park? These things may be intuitive to some, but they are conscious questions that need answers for me to be comfortable to proceed.
If I plan a new project or want to learn a new skill, i will seek information ahead of time on the internet or in books, and read about “how to do it”. I can not watch videos or listen to podcasts to get the information. Once I learn all I can about the skills needed and the correct ways to proceed, I am able to carry out most of these projects with little outside help. But if somebody just told me to simply ‘do it’, I would most likely not be able to proceed. I have to get all the details, line them up, and then I feel confident I understand.
I am often chided by others for not being able to “go with the flow”. I am aware that I irritate others by asking all of the questions I need to know to assemble a complete idea of what will happen in my head. I need all of those details in order to understand.
My husband amazes me. He could watch anybody do something, then do it himself.
I know he is NT because very little has to be explained to him. He sees what has to happen and is able to complete the project using things he has learned by watching and listening.
One of the best things you can do to improve communication and understanding with an autistic person is to state intent, then explain in detail, using as much detail as possible. Do this in every day activities, no matter how small they seem to you. It might be annoying to you to have to do this, know I am not trying to be a pain, but that I need to ask questions in order to understand. It might take extra effort on your part, but you will usually gain willing cooperation if I understand the “big picture” in any scenario.
This is especially true if I am in a medical setting, or in any new place where I am expected to comply or cooperate with issues that are new or require some form of participation on my behalf. Please state intent and explain what will happen in as much detail as possible.
Answering the questions of ” What, when, why, who, where, how?” makes my world and my place in it easier to understand, to negotiate successfully, and to perform satisfactorily.