Depathologizing Asperger’s / autism ~ The strength vs ‘lacking’ edition 

In her book “The Autistic Brain”, right there on page 122, Temple Grandin introduces a new term to my world: “local bias” – the ability to zero in on a tiny detail.  Shortly thereafter, she goes on to describe two separate-but-equal methods of thinking: top-down vs bottom-up thinking (page 124).

This revolutionizes my world, for too many of the conventionally-authoritative information sources on Asperger’s/autism appear to take great liberties in pointing out all that is different about people on the autism spectrum and operate from the frustrating stance that these differences are automatically pathological–in essence, wrong.

It’s interesting, in a cynical, suspicious way, how non-autistic autism “experts” tend to take what is a simple difference and phrase it in a way that somehow makes autism come out on the bottom.  They seem to fall all over themselves to describe a “lack” of something or a weakness somewhere, when in reality, the trait in question could be considered an unusual strength.

For example, researchers and clinicians claim that autistic people are “lacking in central coherence” – that is, they’re saying we are “inferior” in terms of comprehending and communicating the Big Picture.

This of course implies that there is one “right” way to be, and they are “right”, while everyone else is “wrong”.

How convenient for them.

What’s less convenient–but no less accurate–is the fact that there’s a flip-side to this coin: a penchant for details is indeed an Aspergian/autistic trait.  Details that others might miss.  Details that require deeper, more complete thought than average.

Inherently, there’s no problem in having a deficit.  Everyone does.  I do indeed take more time to distill a cluster of concepts down to its Big Picture.  But I also notice nuances that others miss.  I own both my deficit and my advantage.

What about the neurotypical researcher or clinician?  They’re quick to recognize their abilities and advantages, but somehow, their own deficits go probably unnoticed and definitely unspoken.

Most autistic brains pay greater attention to detail, says Temple, on page 119-120 of the same book.  Why is this not recognized as a strength?

Temple Grandin takes a more progressive approach.  She reframes “lack of central coherence” as a far more constructively-termed “local bias”, and neutrally and factually identifies the delineation between “top-down thinking” and “bottom-up thinking”.  It’s sort of a contemporary Separate But Equal concept, without the winks and nudges.

It’s not that I can’t see the Big Picture at all.  That is not my disability.  I have a different ability, one that involves seeing each tree in the forest, and it merely takes me more time and effort to zoom out to see the forest.  Some people may see the forest and let it go at this.  I can only construct a forest by coming to know each tree.

A nonautistic person could probably do this, too.  Declining to know the individual trees is not their disability.  They’re just not as naturally inclined, on average, to examine each tree without extra effort and time, just as I’m not naturally inclined to scan the forest first.  Most of them may catch the full forest in view and figure that’s good enough.  In many situations, it is.  In many situations, I’m going to extra effort that may perhaps be unnecessary.

But that’s my process.  I have mine and others have theirs.  Most of the time, our respective processes work for us.  Sometimes they don’t.

That’s why we need each other.  That’s why the world needs all kinds.

***

(Image Source: Cameron Gray)

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50 Comments

  1. It is these very qualities we have that the IDF sees as strengths isn’t it? The attention to details, seeing things others miss, heightened pattern recognition. That’s why they would employ us whereas others look the other way.

    Because we see things others miss, we see those very details that go towards making the bigger picture, details NT’s miss because they are far too busy looking at the picture as a whole.. My previous doctor, now retired, said to me when I was talking about a something that no-one would pay attention too, yet again, “It’s the story of your life, no-one ever listens to you until it’s too late.” By which time the damage is done etc. She had seen this a lot.

    Talking to my daughter once, we were arguing about something, I said to her “But it’s not as if I’m wrong really is it?” And she said “That’s the problem Dad, you’re nearly always right.” To be honest I was quite surprised about that. (Incidentally, I realised that she wanted to be allowed to make her own mistakes so I backed off and dropped it).

    “We know better *patronising pat on the shoulder* it’s ok, you’re just being paranoid.”
    “He has Asperger’s Syndrome *wink wink* ” Unspoken assumption? Slow and retarded.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. This here is very coincidental 😀
        I was just reading my horoscope as I’ve been informed that my sign has Virgo Rising in it, and this is what it says:

        “You can seem to be consumed by the fine detail, the mechanics of how things work, sometimes to the detriment of what these details are working towards.
        People may come to you when they need things fixed, checked, or understood. But you’re not always invited to the brainstorming session for ‘blue-sky’ thinking.
        The reason you seem fixated on minutiae is because you know that it’s from these acorns that mighty oaks grow — and others respect you for it.
        As someone observant of rules and mindful of harsh realities you can easily become obsessed by those with a dreamy, irrepressible imagination.
        You may be desperate to save them from disaster. Yet this ability to imagine freely, without succumbing to doubt, or self-criticism, is a useful influence in your life.”

        Now, I didn’t look at what it said for other signs (I should have done but it only just occurred to me), for all I know it says the same thing, lol,

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Oh cool! I’m a Virgo myself, and my partner also has Virgo rising. Yep, these traits are shared by a few signs, but not quite so precisely as is with Virgo’s influence. Words and phrases like “minutiae” and “details” and “getting things checked” are definitely Virgo’s realm; many other signs couldn’t care less lol 😉 Wherever you’re getting your horoscope info sounds pretty spot-on! 🙂 ❤

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Taking this “outside” and into other areas, it’s why I always appreciate a generalist opinion when considering a difficult patient. As a subspecialist, no matter how much I try, I will look for a microorganism as a cause when a clinical chemist may see an endocrine aetiology, yet having a general physician (in the Australian context) is a valuable ally.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. The problem lies in how autism is still widely defined: as a lack, a deficit, a falling short of neurotypical standards. Defined, I should say, by non-autistic experts who stand outside looking in. It’s a different perspective from inside autism. I’m currently brewing up a post along those lines (I think serendipity has struck again! ⚡️😮 I’m also currently reading “The Autistic Brain” but haven’t finished yet).
    And I also agree that the world needs all kinds. Wouldn’t it be better if different neurotypes combined their strengths instead of declaring one as the right one and the others as an aberration? ❤️🙂

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Amen! Especially the part about nonautistic experts who stand outside looking in. SO true. How cool that you’re reading “The Autistic Brain”! I found the book incredibly enjoyable. How are you liking it so far? Serendipity indeed! 🙂 🙂 ❤

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Yes, exactly! Why should we all think or be alike? Each has their unique contribution to make. I honestly believe that is the way it is *supposed* to be. Terrific insight, as always.❤❤❤😘😘😘

    Liked by 4 people

    1. “Why should we all think or be alike?” I once read a really good book that explains this (from a neurotypical perspective). Until I read this book (in my late 30’s) I could not understand why people wanted to be surrounded by like-minded, like-looking people. Can’t remember the book name, but essentially, it explained it is because what is different from you is hard to understand/predict (but they don’t lack empathy… just saying…) and what can’t be understood/predicted is frightening and people don’t like to be afraid of their neighbours. Years after reading this book, I still think this explanation makes a lot of sense.

      Liked by 4 people

  5. I just borrowed The Autistic Brain from my library – I’ve been meaning to read it for a while. I think that scientists by necessity use a lot of bottom-up thinking. Sometimes we miss the big picture, so we may be prone to “local bias.”

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Totally agreed 🙂 🙂 I think that can be why science can be so well-suited to many (though I admit, not all) Aspie/autistic peeps. Bottom-up thinking can be extremely helpful. I know that it is a great asset in my own (science-oriented) career. I think it can help with the arts, too – music, painting, writing, etc, can all be very detailed and bottom-up thinking may be a huge advantage there, too. :)) ❤

      Liked by 2 people

  6. A nonautistic person doesn’t see each tree. That is an autistic trait. But it’s a good trait. In my boyfriend’s case he would get to know shape and nuances of each tree.
    I think there are way too many labels for autistic behavior. Central coherence, top bottom thinking..it boggles the mind. You are right, there shouldn’t be a “right” way to be that is determined by NT’s.

    Liked by 5 people

  7. Found a link to this post over at Aspiblog. I like that thing with seeing each tree in the forest. I see details where others see no details. But it’s in the details you get the whole picture I think 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

  8. “The – or rather one – reason; it keeps sticking up in my mind; it is a peg that refuses to be ought but a triangle-cross-section’d piece of hardened steel in a wooden round hole – that the non-autistic majority wish to be surrounded by their seeming clones has to do with an implicitly-magical concept:

    The more numbers of like-minded individuals, the greater the aggregate capacity to bend reality to its collective will. (E.g. ‘harmonic convergence’ of years ago)

    This is the defining concept toward Normdom’s drive toward complete conformity to a collectively-held social ideal – to form a Nazi-style Volksgemeinschaft – a superorganism, thinking and acting (magically) as one – a single entity where ‘nothing shall be beyond them’ (genesis, tower of babel)

    Where autists don’t fit is 1) we don’t do magic(k); 2) we are not readily ‘assimilated’; 3) the biggest reason of all: because we don’t ‘do social’ in the Normie way, we’re commonly seen as non-human *things* – and no righteous Normie ***wants*** to pollute the magic(k)al potency of his clique by allowing ‘subhuman and defective sources of ritual pollution’ – us – into ***his*** sublime colloquium.

    The rules of the social world resemble those of hermeticism or old-line Hinduism, so much so that I suspect the rules of ‘magic’ and ‘religion’ are often those of the social realm ‘codified, and made tangible’ – as in the social world came first, and magic/shamanism/religion came after to ***set the social order in permanence***.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Laina, I soooooo love this post of yours. I am learning so much aboit Autism through your blog and a few other ways. But you have an exquisite and yet simple way of making those of us who are not Autistic see the world the way you see it. I don’t like to say that it is helping me help my daughter because I never really thought my daughter needed any extra help than what any 3-year old would need. But I had noticed she plays with toys like all kids do and also in her own special way and, being the natural analytical person I am, I am always curious about the way she does some things. I naturally want to see it her way and share.

    The example you gave of the trees and the forest reminded me of something she always does with some toys she has. For example, I gave her a box of Melissa & Doug Minnie Mouse wooden magnets. She loooooves them. But she always does the same thing: Dumps them out of the wooden box on the floor and then she picks them up one by one, observing them, as if she were analysing each piece. She is in fact looking for certain patterns: Same background colour, whether Minnie is all by herself or with Daisy, whether there’s a cat or a dog, whether any character is not depicted and it just has a bunch of bows or wrapped boxes. I love what she does and I never thought it was wrong or right. I just think it’s her own way of looking at the world. And I like trying to share in the activity. I many times pick up a magnet that I think is following the pattern she has in her mind. I sometimes get it right and sometimes I don’t. She simply takes it out of my hand and puts it back in the pile (wrong) or in the box with the other ones (right.)

    I have always thought children learn better through games and playing. I ciuld be exhausted at thr end of a whole day at the office and dealing with my future ex-husband’s new B.S. of the Day as I have come to refer to it. But I always make time to play with my child because it is the only way I have found allows me to get to know her.

    Thank you so much for helping me get to know my daughter better. I get mad as hell when the so-called professionals try to tell me that I don’t know my daughter. How can THEY know her when 1) They don’t live with her or provide for her or love her; 2) They are not Autistic and, therefore, anything they may know, they know as second-hand knowledge. And I probably have a #3 to throw in there. They are full of themselves and they are not willing to consider exceptions or that times change and what was good therapy yesterday may be damaging today. If we’re not willing to learn and change, then we’ll continue to always see a forest and we will never get to see the different species growing in it, we won’t hear the birds signing in it, or the wind whistling through it, the morning dew like pearls on the branches, the warm sunbeams swimming through the canopies, the rain splattering on the ground beneath the canopy, or the hush of the animals seeking the protection of the forest.

    Thank you, Laina. You made my day.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. What a lovely, beautiful comment! Wow! You and your daughter are an incredible pair of wonderful people ❤ ❤ She's so lucky to have you for her mum! Your open, inviting, live-and-let-live approach is doing wonders for her and will continue to do so. I really admire and appreciate how you adopt a healthy resistance and independent thought process toward the so-called "experts" because you're SO spot-on – who the heck are they to say that you don't know your daughter?? Who else would know her better in this world besides herself (eventually)?? Ugh, the arrogance on their part stuns me. Just keep being you – as someone who was once an autistic child, with a similarly-lovely mum, I can tell you: You're Doing It Right. Totally right. 🙂 ❤ ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you so much, Laina. Your words mean so much to me. I do sincerely hope I’m doing the right thing. I just follow my instinct. Unfortunately, it is not easy since her father and I are going through a nasty divorce and he’s using her to get at me. On the other hand, the reason why I’m so open to “alternative methods” is because I had a problem in my teenage years. Nothing was working. My mother kept trying the normal medical venues unsuccessfully. Eventually, she took me to their childhood doctor who is also an homeopath. With his holistic approach, he corrected what I was dealing with. Therefore, I know first hand when streamline medicine can be just a bunch of balloney and quacking and you need to start considering other alternatives. Moreover, I know people who had cancer and just the chemotherapy wasn’t cutting it for them. They tried everything, from acupuncture to so many other things. Especially those whose children had leukemia. Wouldn’t you try everything for your own child? I would. That’s my take. By the way, those people are doing well, in case you were wondering, and all of that because they never gave up and they tried everything they could get their hands on.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. For me there is no right or worng way. You just see thinks differently from us. Not better not worse. It’s true that some look down on that way of thinking but i do think that it should’nt be this way. There is a strength in seeing the details. Don’t let people make it seem that there’s something wrong with you. There is nothing wring with you, you are just wonderfully different. And we’re all different otherwise it would be boring. Lots of love lien

    Liked by 1 person

  11. That’s interesting. I have an uncanny knack for seeing the big picture before neurotypicals do, but it is precisely because I pick up on details that they don’t! I notice patterns that tell me the trajectory of trends and I can calculate quite often what is likely to happen as a result of those patterns.

    For instance; I am quite interested in snakes, especially Ball Pythons, I notice all sorts of small details about them and watch hundreds of videos on them, and somebody last night I was talking to said they wished they could manage to breed one with wide horizontal stripes. No sooner that he’d said that the picture came into my mind of exactly how that could be achieved in just a few generations. I think Wayne Dwyer called this “Thinking from the end.”

    Liked by 1 person

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