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.