This is a topic that has been raised on the forum and on the facebook group. Should aphantasia be thought of as more than just a difference and instead be thought of as a disability?

 

What is a disability?

Defining a disability is fraught with danger, as some people may not want their condition to label them as being disabled, where as some people feel they need the extra support that comes with having a recognised disability.

The definition of a disability varies, but essentially it is "a physical or mental condition that limits a person's movements, senses, or activities.". The question we must answer relates to aphantasia and what we class it as impairing.

 

So is aphantasia a disability?

As I mentioned in my previous article, I feel Aphantasia is where a person is unable to experience their conscious thoughts or memories beyond their internal monologue.

Should we class the ability to visualise as a sense? In my opinion we shouldn't, being able to visualise is just a different way of processing thought.

My personal opinion is that with aphantasia we aren't at a disadvantage to other people, the fact that many people have gone through life without knowing they were different is a testament to how little it effects someone in integrating into society.

Aphantasia can be described as a difficulty, however, the majority of issues that have been mentioned by people with aphantasia fall within the range of normal human variation and would be issues for people who can visualise.

This isn't for me to say that aphantasia doesn't have an impact on the day to day life of someone with the condition, however, I feel that I am not limited in what I can achieve compared to the general populous by having aphantasia.

 

Nothing to worry about then?

Aphantasia is a complicated condition that requires the understanding that each person with it will feel slightly different about how it impacts their life.

For myself I have known that I have been unable to visualise for over half my life, so the naming of this condition has just given myself the ability to find other people with the same condition.

For some people who have only just discovered that they are different, they may need more support emotionally. This is why this website exists, to offer people with aphantasia a community, an area to ask questions and feel understood.

Aphantasia can cause certain tasks to be harder, but many of our members have developed strategies for working around situations where a visual memory may be of assistance.

 

I think it must be remembered that while I believe aphantasia is not a disability, it is most definitely a condition that can cause a great deal of emotional stress.

I can't picture my loved ones in my mind, I can't relive moments and memories I cherish, a moment is just that, a moment, never to be relived.

The feeling of isolation and emptiness that can come with aphantasia is something that we need to understand better.

Aphantasia can be emotionally disabling, but it isn't a disability.

 


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Posted: 1 year 3 months ago by sian* #3341
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Yes, the resources would help! These forums are so great because you can see how other people do things and maybe figure out new ways to do things too, as well as reflect on how different we all are (and the same in many ways too).
I'm unsure if I would have liked to know earlier. When I found out, I had a few days where I had to tell myself 'you've functioned perfectly fine your whole life, it's not going to stop now', and if I hadn't had that wealth of prior experience would I be doing all the things I'm doing now? I also had a point when I thought about visualising sunsets, and that it was boring compared to visualising e.g. a rainforest (sounds and spatial, vs nothing for the sunset), and from there I jumped to 'everything that's boring is stuff I don't have to do because my brain doesn't work that way' which wasn't a good way to think lol.
But then, if I had known, some things would have been less frustrating, just being able to think, oh okay, I'll do it this way because I'm better at thinking like this.

Edited to add: have thought more about this, and the labelling/perception of it is important. Part of the reason I was tripped up for a few days was because I was thinking of it as an impairment (I'd read something about people getting aphantasia late in life and having to relearn e.g. how to understand speech. Maybe some people don't rely on it quite to this extent, but before this, I hadn't realised it was such an important part of visualisers' lives). If I'd thought more about how it's a different method of thinking, with its advantages as well as disadvantages (just like everyone else's way of thinking), maybe I wouldn't have been tripped up.
Once you do recognise that it's just another way of thinking, I think there's also a danger that you might box yourself into things you can do, and things you might not be able to so probably shouldn't attempt (e.g. visual art might seem to be one of these things, but obviously you don't need visualisation to be good at it).
Posted: 1 year 3 months ago by Sekhmet #3333
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I definitely don't think it's a disability, if anything we might be seen as more creative because we'll approach problem solving differently than the visualizers.

I do believe it would be helpful to find out whether we are aphantasiacs early. If I had known I would have been less confused and frustrated in art classes when teachers talked about visualizing. I could instead concentrate on my way of drawing/creating and stop trying to do it their way.

Currently I wouldn't even call it an impairment, just a different way of thinking that has advantages and disadvantages... just like visualizers, they can't imagine things the way I do, they get very confused looks on their faces when I describe my thought process for creating. I admit it's depressing a bit to be deprived of visuals... but they're deprived of our methods, sounds fair... we just need to figure out ways of getting around it(or how we already do) and make sure that's a resource young aphantasiacs can access.
Posted: 1 year 3 months ago by sian* #3319
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I like the perspective from PhanthomMenace that it's an impairment that doesn't have to be a disability.
Maybe it's also that people with a lifelong lack of it have had time to develop ways around it, whereas people who lose visual imaging later in life have more difficulty developing workarounds. I feel, for instance, that I can truly immerse myself in a fictional world without imaging (I know I have nothing to compare it to, but I might be doing things visualisers don't. I can definitely get lost in fiction for hours and hours).
I think it's important to consider that, while it may be an impairment, visualisers might be impaired in some things relative to non-visualisers, things that also generally don't disable them.
Posted: 1 year 3 months ago by livewire #3307
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PhantomMenace's comments confirm what I had thought: if you never had it, you live life in your own normal way, but if you had it and lost it, you strongly feel the loss. I've always been unable to visualize, but never knew anybody could visualize until I was in my 40s. I always did well in school and especially in writing.

There have been times when I had difficulty communicating with a highly visual person when we were working on a complex problem together, and part of the problem was that he didn't understand that when he described something I couldn't instantly see it. I would tell him that I had to think about it, and he didn't understand why. But eventually we finished the project: building a houseboat, which I then lived in for 12 years.
Posted: 1 year 4 months ago by PhanthomMenace #2913
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I do not see it as a difference: I see aphantasia as a disability.

My aphantasia is not congenital, but has progressed over the years, and while I once could imagine things with decent vividness and clarity in my childhood, I now can hardly imagine anything at all. This has greatly impacted my life, and my memories have become fact repositories, devoid of the emotion-inducing sensory experience and reenactment of what went through my cherished days. I find the experience of thinking without visualizing to be odd and difficult compared to how I once thought, and I cannot enjoy fiction books because I cannot form the mental landscapes that you need to truly immerse yourself in their worlds.

I often see a difference in how the condition's origin affects how those with the condition perceive them, even if they are medically considered impairments and disabilities. This divide can be prominently seen in the deaf population, where while those who acquired their impairment in adolescent or adult life desire deeply to be able to hear again, those who were born deaf or who acquired their condition very early in life often view their condition with pride, and shun technologies, like cochlear implants, that now provide the ability to hear in people with profound deafness. To me, this difference comes down to whether that person lost something, or never had it in the first place.

I think aphantasia can be described as an impairment from the statistical and evaluative concept of normality: a loss or abnormality in physical or psychological function; that does not necessarily lead to diability: which is an inability to perform everyday tasks and can depend significantly on the environment. Another condition that reflects this is alexithymia: an inability to consciously experience emotion. It is a condition that does not necessarily lead to disability as the people who have it can often emulate the required social emotions, and many people with the condition are not bothered by it as they cannot grasp the experience of emotion and know what they are missing out on.

I wish there is a treatment that would allow me to visualize with the clarity and vividness that I once did, though I realize that, with the very little that is known about aphantasia and the non-urgency that surrounds it means that a treatment-option would probably be never explored. You may have your own opinion, but I view aphantasia as a curse.
Posted: 1 year 4 months ago by opapinguin #2823
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I don't think it derails our lives, or affects our ability to function even the slightest. It's likely there are artists, engineers etc. with aphantasia.

Seeing the lack of research in the field, I'm clearly basing this off of my own experience. I personally did well in school, even 'bypassing' my limitations on a visual IQ test involving the rotation of shapes by 'feeling the shape', which I've seen many of us are able to do. I've also worked as 3D animator and sculpter. I strongly belief our visual "disability" strengthens our understanding of other sense-related attributes, like touch or hearing (to put it another way, it's a bit like closing your eyes and hearing more accurately).

Of course, it probably impairs us to do great on a highly visual job, but not necessarily to do well. The job is almost certain to offer more attributes which we can take advantage of. Life is more than just seeing.

On the other hand, I find it extremely upsetting to be unable to conjure up images of people I've known; maybe aphantasia is affecting my ability to function emotionally in that sense.
Posted: 1 year 5 months ago by louis-simon_24 #2812
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I think it is a problem when your job requires visualisation.
Posted: 1 year 6 months ago by moyer #2620
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That's a good point. While aphantasia does seem to imply a disability of conscious mental imagery, it doesn't seem to noticeably impair ones standard of living. Many mental disabilities and obviously physical disabilities DO impair ones standard of living, but I have a hard time lumping aphantasia in with that connotation of the word.

I apologize for the over use of the word "seems," we just don't have enough hard evidence to use more definitive language. :(

-Joel
Posted: 1 year 6 months ago by ussfa344 #2617
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moyer wrote:
I definitely do NOT consider aphantasia a disability. I seem to excel at most things I undertake. :)

I also REALLY WISH I could experience the ability to visualize at will....wow.

-Joel
Excelling at things and having disabilities are not mutually exclusive events. I am rated permanently and totally disabled by the US Department of Veterans Affairs, yet I graduated summa cum laude and at the head of my class at Washington State University.
Posted: 1 year 6 months ago by moyer #2593
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I definitely do NOT consider aphantasia a disability. I seem to excel at most things I undertake. :)

I also REALLY WISH I could experience the ability to visualize at will....wow.

-Joel
Posted: 1 year 7 months ago by CanISee #2564
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I can't find a "disadvantages" specific thread, I know there's an "advantages" type thread.
I just thought of a potential disadvantage (relating to yet more places they use visualization).

Never had kids, don't want to, I was actually reading an article aimed at helping parents of anxious kids (to see if it'd help my boyfriend with me :P.)
blogs.psychcentral.com/stress-better/201...at-these-22-phrases/

I got to: "17. I am on a beach. There is a reason why guided imagery is used during labor and delivery to reduce pain. It works! Imagine yourself in a soothing, happy place before you speak."

Never knew, that could be awkward/infuriating. :p I could see it sucking to not be able to utilize a common pain reduction tactic. :/

Yet more proof I should never have kids. :p
Posted: 1 year 7 months ago by SD #2540
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I'm new here, and haven't introduced myself. SD. Life-long Aphantasia.

The problem with this question for me is that disability is in the eye of the beholder. I once watched a documentary about a deaf family. They wanted deaf children and did not want any involvement with cochlear implants. They were happy with their way of life, their community and they did not see themselves as handicapped or disabled. Cochlear implants were unwelcome complications. Their hearing parents struggled to make them understand that they owed their children the opportunity to hear. It is really strange, because I have also debated with myself if I would want mental imagery at this point or whether it would be an unwelcome complication.

I do not know any different way of being than the way I am. What I do know is that people who lose their ability to visualize become so panicked about it that they run to the doctor and demand a brain scan or some sort of intervention. To them it is an emergency. Their alarm seems to be the sole reason that scientists actually are taking this issue seriously finally. When I read what they say, I perceive a severe sense of loss.

So, I don't know. I am a functional, gainfully employed person, so it is easy to say that I do not have a disability. But how do I know that my Aphantasia doesn't cause me to live a far lower quality of life (educational attainment, social life, career) than I could have had with normal cognition? I don't.
Posted: 1 year 8 months ago by justine_24 #2301
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I don't think it should be classified as a disability but it should be recognized in schools and helped with. In second grade I got moved to Special Education classes because I couldn't keep up in class but that was mainly because I would have to keep rereading everything we read in class. None of the teacher had any idea what was wrong or what I was going through, for years they just thought I was acting out in class and I just didn't want to try when that wasn't the case at all. I graduated high school last year and discovered the article of Aphantasia in the summer. I emailed my English teacher so she could get understanding of it and maybe find a way to help children in the future that might have it. All in all, should it be classified as a disability no, but I feel like it should be dealt with kind of like disability. I feel like the reason this has affected my life so much is because, what seems so easy for everyone around me is almost impossible for me.
Posted: 1 year 9 months ago by Caldonia.Frank #2256
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That's very true, but I feel like it's only just being covered. My psychology teacher didn't know about it this year when I told him, and my English teacher this year said something along the lines of "it's impossible to not visualize it!" in regards to a passage. I decided to email them a video done by Nathan Buzby today in hopes to broaden their horizons to this, although I don't know how they'll change at all or if they will. It'll be interesting to see if I get any responses and what they are.
Posted: 1 year 9 months ago by Hudsoncnns #2165
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Posted: 1 year 11 months ago by Nathan Buzby #1735
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Mike_M
Unfortunately it seems that educators haven't noticed that some of their pupils can't visualise:

There are so many things educators are behind on, seems it takes a good decade for some of them to just catch up on the neuroscience. I was constantly butting heads during my brief tenure teaching middle school students with rigid and out dated ideation, assumptions, and the worst was labeling children according to being model students or future prisoners, and that starts in elementary school, these value judgments based on a societal notion that fail to recognize the sheer diversity of cognitive make ups are a major inhibitor to effective self-identity, teaching kids to endeavor in ways meaningful and appropriate for them, and a host of other ills.
Posted: 1 year 11 months ago by Mike_M #1716
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Unfortunately it seems that educators haven't noticed that some of their pupils can't visualise:

www.readingrockets.org/strategies/visual_imagery
Posted: 1 year 11 months ago by christine_11 #1714
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It is a difference rather than a deficit but what is not needed is to make children selfconscious in their activities. I was a left hander at a time when right handed was seen to be the correct way of doing things. This made me nervous in many practical school activities and lacking confidence. I have always thought that with enough effort I would visualise which is an open ended way of seeing potential. I think conceptually and this has worked for me. It is important to be clear about thinking strengths as well as weaknesses.
Posted: 2 years 1 day ago by ussfa344 #1649
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Aphantasia may be considered by some to be a cognitive impairment. If it is severe enough to be considered a cognitive impairment then I suggest it can be considered a disability if can be shown to cause earning impairment. The real problem, as I see it, is that diagnosis and severity may be somewhat subjective. In other words, clinicians have to take our word on it.

In my case, my prosopagnosia, of which my aphantasia is a subset, is easily proven as I lost the part of the brain where recognition take place.
Posted: 2 years 2 days ago by Nathan Buzby #1622
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Like many discussions on disability, I like to look at the social model for disability as a means of assessing things. When dealing with neurological difference, we tend to measure everything against the median ability, we also do this with sensory tests such as sight and hearing. The problem often is that society orients itself around this median framework and as a result, something that is a simple difference becomes a disability because of how we organize our lives. Given that most of us experience a great variability in work and life success, I cannot view this as a disability, just a difference. Neither can I view it as Deficit, we have generated quite a few pro's vs con's in regards to this, and a deficit is less than a total sum, and I don't think we are less capable than others, just use different approaches, have some personality traits that are associated with it, etc.

The key is understanding this difference, along with other differences when it comes to educating children and fostering a healthy sense of self-identity, we sometimes get a bit lost when an educator overly focuses on visual forms of learning that require mental manipulation, it is simple enough to promote different teaching approaches in the classroom that target different learning styles, such as teaching a topic in an auditory, visual, and tactile manner, if you hit those big three approaches, student success will increase as a result, this is just another reason why we need to support teaching to the difference. Other than being left out in the cold on a few things because folks have not comprehended the difference, I think we do just fine.
Posted: 2 years 2 days ago by bikersurfer #1617
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Disability, no, I absolutely do not believe this condition has derailed my life in any way. Of course, being cognizant of only this one lifetime, 66 yrs so far, l have no other to compare it to; but, I don't think the quality of my life would have been significantly enhanced with visualization ability.

That is not to say that aphantasia has not affected my cognitive senses/abilities and mental processes. I do believe we develop workarounds, different approaches to problems, challenges and situations that visualizers may perceive and respond to using mental imagery.

I suppose that one could make the argument that since aphantasia is a newly recognized condition and that education systems and societies as a whole have apparently been shaped by visualizers, we have been at a learning disadvantage. And, perhaps that is true, to some degree, but the mind is wonderfully adaptable and will find ways to integrate essential data and input in an optimal manner.

We cannot know how our lives would be or have been different for the lack or presence of a particular characteristic or ability. Our uniqueness as individuals is comprised of each facet of our being, and to say, "Well, if this or that had been different in my life I would have been happier (wealthier, smarter, whatever)", is at best speculative, and at worst demeaning to what you as an individual have accomplished and overcome to become the person you are.
Posted: 2 years 2 days ago by phoenixmoon #1608
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my partner who i really thought had understood it till is struggling. I talked about something i remembered from very young he said well if I can know hte colour and the things that happend then i must have visualised it and how could i describe what the plane was like etc trying to explain to him that i know but can not see it is really hard for him to grasp.
Posted: 2 years 2 days ago by angela_99 #1605
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I too think it is a condition but I think people must be aware of it B)
I spent a lot of time to explain it is not lack of will t do not master things like orientation visualization ( :sick: for me aphntasia is tied to that)
A lot of time to manage people sayng that book is better than movie :lol: or why iI do not understand the utility of mynd maps in learning...
so the more awareness rises the less aphantastic o aphantasic ? feels alone :lol:

Thanks for this site and this foum!!!

Posted: 2 years 2 days ago by Thomas #1596
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I feel that as aphantasia is a difficulty, strategies can be used to ensure that in academia, children aren't at a disadvantage.

For example, in school at a young age, instead of saying picture a cube, give the child a cube to hold.

Simple things, however, without awareness even something as simple as that won't be achieved.
Posted: 2 years 2 days ago by phoenixmoon #1595
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Not wanting to sound reactionalist. But no i don't think it is a disability at all however for some schools to recognise children may need a different approach to learning they are not set up to just do it, to get the staff trained if they are unaware of how to teach non-visualises the difference has to be labeled.