Autism, Visual Thinking, & Communication – An Autistic Perspective


Hey everyone, NeuroRebel here and this week, we’re going to talk about visual thinking –  the good, the bad, the ugly, how this impacts communication. If this is interesting to you, stick around, we’re going to dive into it next.

[00:00:51]I, myself, am a visual thinker and although not all Autistic people are visual thinkers. This does seem to be something that is fairly common with a lot of Autistic people that I have met personally.

[00:01:05] Are you a visual thinker? Are you Autistic and a visual thinker? Are you not Autistic and a visual thinker?  What is being a visual thinker like for you?

[00:01:15] I want to know let’s share it because this is not a universal experience, but it is cool to see how we are same and how we differ.

[00:01:22]You might say, well, I don’t know. How would I know if I a visual thinker? Well, let me explain to you what this is like for me.

[00:01:30] So someone will say something and I instantly have – not words in my head, but a visual representation of what is being described to me.  For example, when someone says it’s raining cats and dogs, even though I know what this phrase actually means, my visual brain imagines, the very literal cats and dogs falling from the sky.

[00:01:58] It is what I see. Also, for example, if somebody describes an event to me, especially if it is something gross or graphic, I am instantly going to see this in my head often in great detail, which means this can also be a very horrible thing. When people are telling you about things that are really horrific, that I don’t want to be picturing or have pictures of in my head, but I am thinking in video and picture so everything in my mind is very visual. When people ask me questions, I have to kind of go back through and visually sort through data and pictures and maybe logos in my head. If I’m trying to remember something from the store, I’m like trying to look at different boxes of products like, Oh, cereal, cereal – I see this cereal. I see this circle. I see this cereal and it’s a very visual memory.

[00:03:10] The other part of this that is complicated is because I think visually I don’t necessarily think to myself. So I think that’s why I talked to myself a lot out loud, actually.

[00:03:22]Certain concepts that aren’t easily made visual, such as feelings and emotions are often harder for me to explain or express or put into words.

[00:03:37] That’s why I like to do a lot of writing to get things out of my head onto a paper, into a visual space and talking through things mysela also help with this, to process all of this visual stuff and put it into words because I don’t think in words, I think in videos and pictures, and it’s a very different experience in my head.

[00:04:02] I cannot imagine being someone who just thinks through everything in words, it probably makes people easier conversationalists because in conversation, sometimes there is a bit of a delay where I have this concept and it’s a visual concept and I can see it, but then I have to figure out how to make it into words and then if I have time to make it to words, the conversation may have moved on already because there’s that bit of a lag from translating into my native visual thinking style language to speaking and getting that out of my mouth into something that is articulable for other humans.

[00:04:39]I may like look off to the side of the screen for a minute or appear to look down in a way while I gather my thoughts and that’s because I am going through those very visual things going, this, this, this, this, this, like I’m sorting through that visual Rolodex. So I have those little pauses where I freeze and appear to go somewhere else, because I am seeing something in front of me that you cannot see and I am visualizing, looks like I’m daydreaming.

[00:05:17] I’m sure I was told I was daydreaming. When I was actually visualizing things many times growing up.

[00:05:24] To think visually is a skill for me and is a skill for many autistic people I can go through and rerun a scenario in my head, close my eyes and go back to a three 60 VR version of a memory and walk myself through the place I was.

[00:05:46] My memories are very clear and just as much as this can be a skill this, as I mentioned earlier with visualizing things you don’t want to visualize, can also be unfortunate because all of my memories are so very clear, even the bad memories. If I allow myself to ruminate and fixate and experience bad memories it can be like reliving them all over again because they are so clear and that kind of sucks.

[00:06:23] But I love the fact that my good memories are equally clear and accessible. The funny thing about my memory though, is that working memory, that executive functioning, that short-term memory doesn’t always stick and my long-term memory is really longterm.

[00:06:47] I have crystal clear memories of being one to one and a half, two years old, teaching myself to speak and escaping from my crib and a lot of people do not have memories of being that young.

[00:07:05] But if you asked me if I locked the door, when we left the house, I couldn’t tell you, or did I feed the dogs today? When’s the last time I shampooed my hair?

[00:07:17] I’m going to have to get back to you and figure that out. I’m really completely dependent on my visual schedule because all these little things don’t stick in my head. I’m not sure if that’s because I don’t really have any timelines in my head or what, they’re a bunch of just events and things floating around in there and unless I put it on a timeline, there is no timeline and that’s kind of hard and that’s another reason I think I’m so dependent on my visual schedule because it’s a little bit chaotic  in there with all those visual things floating around.

[00:07:59] If you asked me, would you give this up? Would you give up the way you think, would you change the way your mind works?

[00:08:05] No. Absolutely not over the past few years since being diagnosed and discovering that I am Autistic. I have been on a mission to learn, to work with my mind instead of against it.

[00:08:19] It is getting easier mostly now because I know I’m Autistic and that my mind does work in a different way, because for a lot of years, I didn’t really understand how much of an impact this.

[00:08:32] Had on my life and the impact is very big.

[00:08:39] All right, everyone. Thank you so much for hanging out with me this week. I would love to know your thoughts in the comments below. If you haven’t already dropped me a comment.

[00:08:47] Are you Autistic? Are you a visual thinker? Are you not a visual thinker? What is it like inside your brain?

[00:08:54] Because we are all different. This has just been my singular experience as an Autistic person with a visual thinking style.

[00:09:07] Like I said, over and over again, every episode each and every Autistic person and Autistic experience is unique. So I would love to know what this is like for you. Drop us a note.

[00:09:21] All right, everyone. Thank you so much for hanging out with me with this week. I put out new videos every Wednesday. So don’t forget to subscribe and turn on notifications. If you found this video helpful.

[00:09:31] Actually, if you found it helpful, it would be really amazing. If you could share this video sharing is caring and it is how I get the word out with this educational content.

[00:09:43] So that’s really wonderful. If you could do that for me, just give it a quick share, please, please, please? I am resulting to begging.

[00:09:50] Also a huge thank you to the NeuroRebel, Patrion subscribers, and Facebook supporters for helping me create quality content with transcriptions and closed captioning. I couldn’t do it without you.

[00:10:05] Thank you so much to each and every one of you for being a huge part of what I do. Thank you all for being here, I will talk to you next week. Bye .


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3 thoughts on “Autism, Visual Thinking, & Communication – An Autistic Perspective

  1. I am autistic, but I am not a visual thinker. I most likely have aphantasia. Until this year, I had no idea that people could literally conjure images in their mind. Nor did I realize that people could imagine sounds/music and smells in their head. My brain doesn’t work in words either. Instead, the best way that I can describe it is that I am a conceptual thinker. I think in concepts and feelings.

    I never realized growing up that when someone like a teacher asked me to picture something in my mind’s eye that they actually meant that I should see something. I see nothing in my mind’s eye.

    I get bored when reading literature with long visual descriptions of scenes or characters because those things don’t matter to me when reading a story. I can’t imagine these descriptions. What I do care about in literature is character development. I want to feel a character. I can build a mental model or a conceptual representation of a character in my mind.

    The same goes for people. I have a concept and mental model of my wife and son. But if you ask me to describe what they look like, I will be focusing on the very basics like hair color. Unless I am looking at someone (or a picture of that someone), I cannot visualize them. Clothing, eye color, hair color, or any other visual description of a person is lost on me as soon as I look away unless I intentionally catalog and intentionally try to memorize those features. I’m no better at remember names either unless I intentionally try to do so.

    However, I do have very vague/faint visual representations when dreaming (although my dreams are mostly what I would describe as darkness). I also start to see short flashes of images in my head as I am falling asleep. But I have no control over those images nor my dreams. I can not intentionally remember something or see anything in my head during the day when my mind is active.

    I can’t compare my experience to yours or any other visual thinker. But I can say that I appreciate the way that my mind works. What I lose by not being able to visualize things in my head I make up with by being able to connect disparate concepts and ideas. Of course, maybe this is just an autistic thing in general too and has nothing to do with the way my conceptual brain works.

    The challenge that you face with translating images into words is something that does not happen with me. It seems that my conceptual thinking translates into words with relative ease. As long as I am in a comfortable situation, people often say I talk really fast. I respond relatively fast too. I often do not know what words will come out of my mouth until I say them because there is some kind of translation between my non-language based concepts into words that I do not fully comprehend. All I know is that I can think in concepts way faster than I can think in words (it is a challenge for me to slow down and think in words inside my head and it does not come naturally…which may also be why I struggle with learning foreign languages since I am trying to think of foreign words in my head). And for the most part, once I get enough words out, the concept that I’m thinking starts to make sense to others. But since I don’t literally think of the words that I am about to say, but instead think of the concept I am trying to convey, sometimes I don’t end up explaining things exactly as I intended to and have to add more words on top for clarity. Hence the reason why this comment is so long: I tend to over-explain everything.

    1. I too have aphantasia and also prosopagnosia and find it impossible to form mental images I can “see”. But I struggle converting concepts, which I often describe as “thought bubbles” or “thought clouds” into strings of words. I made an attempt at describing my experience in my post Thinking about the lockdown.

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