Firstly I need to be completely transparent, while I have officially been diagnosed with ADHD as a child and again as an adult, I have never officially been diagnosed with ASD (autism spectrum disorder) as I have never sought an official diagnosis due to my belief that an official diagnosis wouldn't help me at this point in my life.

However, as well as my own self realisation that I appear to have ASD, the medical professionals who have diagnosed my ADHD and other Autism specialists have confirmed that I do fall on the ASD spectrum in the area that would have in the past been referred to as Aspergers.


Autism is a spectrum disorder, my experiences and my way of thinking will be different to others with ASD. This isn't a definitive answer on the topic of aphantasia and autism, however, it could be viewed as opening the door to discussion on the matter.

Aphantasia has impacted my life in many ways, typically through what I would call micro choices. These micro choices and explaining this further is for another article, but in this case it explains why I don't enjoy reading as I never feel immersed in a book, even if the topic is something I am deeply interested in. I would like to make it clear that I haven't completely read any of the books by Temple Grandin, however, I have read sections of the book Thinking in Pictures and this is my inspiration for this article.

I am not attempting to counter the arguments or opinion of Mary Grandin, what I am attempting to offer is the insight to how thinking works in an Autistic brain without being able to think in pictures.

I'm also not attempting to dissect what makes someone have ASD or how I function with ASD, but instead offer a different way of understanding how a brain with ASD and aphantasia works.

 

I have always scored highly on IQ tests, falling between 135 and 147 being my highest, but my spatial reasoning scores have always been noticeably lower than the other parts of the test. I typically score highly on questions asking me what piece would complete the shape, or what piece fits where or what piece is missing, however I score comparatively lower on the typical example of showing you an unfolded cube with different designs on each of its 6 sides and asking what cube would be impossible to make when refolded.

Here is an Example Test, I find the last 3 examples difficult to complete in any reasonable amount of time, and I got the last one wrong. Now getting one wrong out of ten might seem like a good score, but I feel that not being able to visualise is holding me back from getting ten out of ten quickly.

As the designs become more complex I struggle to be able to calculate their positions 'blind'. As I can't rebuild the cube in my mind, it takes an inordinate amount of thought to try and figure out which pieces would be where when the paper is refolded. Even though I know how it will fold and which pieces go where when assembled, without being able to visualise, I lose track of how each piece would be orientated and how it relates to its adjacent piece.

For those of you who can visualise and would find this task easy, the only way I can explain the difficulty I face would be for me to ask you to complete a 6 piece jigsaw puzzle. However, you only have one attempt, the pieces are turned over, so every piece looks the same and also they are all the same shape. Every piece will fit into each other piece, and you will only know if you have done it correctly when you turn it over at the end and the finished puzzle is shown to you.

 

I enjoy problem solving, building structures and understanding how a machine or system would function and operate. I can look at a structure and see the small details, or why its design would cause a failure. Even without being able to visualise I am able to understand the bigger picture, however, I get there piece by piece, looking at how each piece would impact the following and so on. For complicated systems, this becomes quite difficult as explained above, it can be hard to keep track of all the pieces as I can't see them as a whole, I can understand the bigger picture, but I can't "see" it at once.

In my mind I can't see a vast library of images, however the majority of nouns have a deep link to childhood and will link back to a scene that is related to that word. If I think of 'VCR' I think of primary school, where a big CRT TV would be on this wheeled apparatus that would be brought out of a cupboard for various screenings of weird educational videos. I then think about a VCR in the cabinet under the TV that was at my grandparents house 15 years ago. The difference between myself and what Temple Grandin is describing is, I can't see what I'm thinking. The links, the library of interconnected thoughts to words are there, but it is blind, it is verbal.

I can wander around in my mind getting lost from where I was meant to be in the first place, hopping from word to word, but even though it is a hugely descriptive journey, with many twists and turns, it is blind.

 

My mind still seems to create this library of images, but the ability to retrieve and recreate them just isn't there. Aphantasia appears to be the inability to recreate the images that are stored in memory or thought.

When I absorb information I assume it is stored factually as I can't retrieve an image associated with memories at a later date. For example, if I think of the world 'steeple' I can't bring up a library of churches I have seen in my life, I can remember one well, it was one I would see on a back road near where I lived as a child. However, what is odd is that I feel that if I could visualise it would be there in my minds eye in all its glory, but as I can't visualise, it sits there, out of reach, but feeling so close. I want to dig deeper into this memory, I feel like I know it so well, and that I could explorer around the scene, but I can't, like I am held back behind an opaque window.

I instead retrieve this information as bullet points, pieces of information that I feel I am dragging from this image deep in my mind and converting into my inner monologue as a verbal description. As trying to verbally describe this image would be too much of a task, only the key points are translated to a bullet point description. So often this interconnected web of words is done as a vast venn diagram overlaying words into categories of association, but each word is grouped verbally and not visually. 

 

Not all people with ASD are visual thinkers so even if I could visualise I may not have been a visual thinker. I am by no means the authority on this subject nor the best person to be discussing it, however, I hope I will have given other people with ASD and Aphantasia the confidence to discuss how they think so we can learn more about the human mind.

Please comment on this article and share how you think.


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Posted: 1 year 5 months ago by CanISee #3384
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I sew a little bit too (mostly little plush). When I was little, and a teen I couldn't comprehend patterns even when I saw them, now somehow I'm a bit more capable. (Actually when I was a kid I tried to make some shorts... but they were like 2D :P) My grandmother sewed.
Posted: 1 year 5 months ago by livewire #3309
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About 70 years ago I used to sit on my mother's lap while she sewed clothes on her treadle Singer. As I grew older I learned to make doll clothes, then my own clothes. Over the years I've noticed that I use the skills learned in putting pattern pieces together to form a garment, not because I can visualize the pieces coming together. I'm not sure how I do it, but this ability, or these skills, serve me well in figuring out the mechanics of how things work. I often help my husband, who can visualize, but doesn't understand how something will work as quickly as I do.

These are truly eye-opening articles and comments for me, and yes, I guess that is a bit of a pun!
Posted: 1 year 5 months ago by Sensorium #3224
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Just did the visual test, got 10/10. Once I fold up the cube in my head I can just spin it around to check against the images. Very fast, except for two of them where I had to double check to make sure I had the diagonal half-black face correctly oriented compared to the others.

Reading this forum is such a mind opener. I can see the little cubes in my head, fold them, unfold them, flip them around like dice. My mind even adds in the sounds and flimsy feel of the cubes (I imagine them as being made out of paper, like I cut them out and taped it up).
Posted: 1 year 11 months ago by sdegenov #2222
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My son, who is 21, does have ASD. He has always done what we call "movie-talk", that is, he has memorized Disney movies and can recite them word for word. He has shared that at least 1, sometimes 2 movies are playing in his head almost all the time. He enjoys it, and would prefer to watch the movie(s), and has had to divide his attention between these movie and other things like people talking to him, and school work...all his life. He told me that he can't really turn them off. I have repetitive thoughts also, and songs, but that's more of an OCD thing for me. So here he's seeing movie in his mind's eye all the time, and I can't see a darn thing unless I'm dreaming. Ironic!
Posted: 2 years 1 month ago by Thomas #1693
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sharonq wrote:
If you suggest :"VCR" I get a sense of a generic VCR (on the other side of that glass) - I know it's rough dimensions and how much space it would take up but have no visual for it. Is this one place where you and Temple align - a series of specific VCRs rather than a generic?

I seem to do both, certain words, I will link to specific things and experiences in my past, some however will be taken as generic. If I think of an item that links to a specific experience, I will remember that first, delve into that, and then alongside that, hold a generic description of the item, size, shape, colour, connections on the rear etc.

sharonq wrote:
Thanks for another great articles - always something to think deeply about - and another chance to understand our unique way of thinking.

Thank you, I hope each article helps to answer a question or at least ask the question for someone else to answer.
Posted: 2 years 1 month ago by sharonq #1690
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Thomas. I also have "mental blindness" but I much prefer your term "thinking without pictures" because as you say the memories are there - it's just sometimes difficult to access them. I too feel like "I am held back behind an opaque window".

I have tested as having an I! of 120 to 140 but struggled in at University because I could do well in some courses and so poorly in others - I didn't realize until much later that most students were using visual memory to answer questions when I had to remember linkages or learn to draw complex diagrams in order to use them in a test - where others just remembered them. I missed 6 and 8 on the spatial awareness test but rushed it a bit as looking at visuals too long tires my brain. I did cheat a bit - but would do the same on a real test - I clipped out the flattened drawing and rotated it until it lined up with one of the visual sides in an answer then can "fold" it one step at a time and check to see if I can find the impossible solution. People will give me directions verbally and if there are more than 2 turns I have to create a map for myself with their directions then I can follow it.

I have neither ASD or ADHD.

If you suggest :"VCR" I get a sense of a generic VCR (on the other side of that glass) - I know it's rough dimensions and how much space it would take up but have no visual for it. Is this one place where you and Temple align - a series of specific VCRs rather than a generic?

I wonder if the images we have are just locked into our subconscious - I know when I dream I see pictures but cannot bring them into my conscious mind.

Thanks for another great articles - always something to think deeply about - and another chance to understand our unique way of thinking.
Posted: 2 years 1 month ago by phoenixmoon #1688
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oh what happened lol i did the test got 0 right and was so sure i was doing really well. my IQ is between 128 and 134 teed about 20 years ago when i had my dyslexia diagnosis done

you explain it really well a t how the words are the decritption etc. i don't think i am on the ASD even though it has been suggested i may be mild Aspergers. just not something i have been interested in pursuing at this point.