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thinking types

Maybe "autism" is not a useful category and for autistic humans and their environment it would be essential to learn about their particular (autistic) thinking and perception type.

The clusters mentioned here are always preliminary. With each new experience this model might have to be revised or extended. It contains basically my experiences within the workshops I moderated.


In fact it's an illusion that single channels of perception as seeing, hearing or smelling are seperated. Even language requires a sychronisation of seeing, hearing and moving. As they are seperated thinkers autistic humans perceive their synchronisation of perception channels differently - often more obvious than non-autistic thinkers. This is because the perception channels are linked to verbal thinking in different ways respectively and autistic humans always identify both aspects of thinking consciously. In the workshops from time to time you will find participants who feel attracted by things which interconnect different perception channels (eg letters and colours in eurythmics). The can be as well recognised by their sensitivity to the quality of perception but not to the quantity. They for example can't stand certain sounds but are not at all bothered by loud music or noise).

thinking in pictures

There are indeed those picture thinkers described by Temple Grandin - and they are not even rare. Their specific skilla are often hidden, even for themselves, and they see the challenges of their specific thinking instead. Picture thinking is always related to an excellent memory based on pictures. In almost every case you will find out that for them logic and logical thinking is very important; those are their keys to understand their (social) environment. They are often pecise and associative thinkers which means they link their perceived details to each other by similarity (colours, forms, sounds etc). You will as well often realise that they are emotionally quite open to other humans and that they find it hard to distinguish their own feelings from those of other people. Among picture thinkers you will regularly find those autistic people who speak only little or not at all or those with some kind of dyslexia. There are picture thinkers who experience massive overloads as well as those who appear to be almost immune against overloads. The latter are very good in concentrating on something. Picture thinking people who are good verbally are often prone to overloads and poor in concentration skills. Picture thinkers are visual thinkers; their leading perception channel is seeing.

thinking in patterns

I regard myself being a pattern thinker, even in Temple Grandins sense. But within the workshops I realised there are quite different types of pattern thinkers. There some who are thinking very analytical, as I am, but as well some whose thinking is very associative. Ther are some (like me) whose leading perception channel is hearing but as well some who are obviously guided by seeing. The latter seem to be a minority among patten thinkers. I realised that their visual abilities usually have extraordinary strengths and weaknesses which can be extremely accurate and detail focused in one aspect but looses orientation and coordination in anonther. Pattern thinkers appear to find it hard to recognise concepts behind the details. Memory and concentration abilities are mostly average and should be trained. Different to picture thinkers pattern thinkers are verbally often excellent. They rather handle their logical thinking playfully and competent than having a rigid logic like picture thinkers. They seem to be less penetrable emotionally as well. But they find it hard to hide; their "I-mask" is often incomplete and fragile. They feel themselves being "open books" to other people. Often they hardly distinguish between people they know very well (as parents) and strangers. They rather make this distinction intellectually.

structuring thinking

This thinking type which is connected to sorting and arranging is quite close to pattern thinking. But I distinguish them because, different to pattern thinkers autistic humans of this type have an extraordinary patience and concentration ability in particular by performing the same tasks over and over again. They are attrected by constancy. For me people with a faible for sorting and arranging things appear to be very stable psychically. They rest in themselves because they are able to create the structure they need by themselves. This is as well an obvious difference to pattern thinkers. Up to now I haven't seen any tendency to overloads within this group. The thinking of these structuring thinkers is not only structuring but as well creative. The ability to give structure can be a good basis fpr creativity which resides within a certain scope but is able to fill it.

functional thinking

Related to autism "theory of mind" is a commom notion. This means to determine the inner states of other humans intuitively - not to feel them. This intuitive determination means understanding and distinguishing it from ones owns inner states. Feeling on the other hand means identifying (see "hyperempathic thinking"). Autistic humans are said to have a poor intuitive "theory of mind" which seems to be correct. Anyhow they can make those inner states of other humans accessible for themselves by observation. It's less common that often autistic people are able to understand functional correlations of machines or computers intuitively. These functional correlations can be regarded as inner states of machines. I was hinted on this ability first by documentations on the intelligence of crows. I realised that they can handle complex functional tasks only by watching them - without trying out something. I call this intuitive understanding of functional correlations "theory of function" because there are quite some paralles to "theory of mind". Humans with a good theory of function reside entirely within a world of objects. They feel closer to objects and things than to humans and feel like aliens within a human world. They are often not at all able to "read" other humans and cannot be read by others as well. As object-related personalities they are the "real aliens" among the autistic population. They are regarded as very closed up but are in reality very open.

hyperempathic thinking

Empathy is a very complex notion; little understood and often used. I'm not satisfied with the notion of "hyperempathy" because it can be misleading. I'm thinking of autistic humans who are able to perceive the feelings of other creatures and objects. With feeling I mean accessing the inner states directly and not only by observation. This can be the feelings of humans as well as of creatures and objects. According to my obeservation there are autistic people of this thinking type with a direct access to humans or those with a direct access to creatures and things. I never have observed both aspects together. People with a direct access to other humans feel their feelings as if they were their owns. They hardly can distinguish them from each other. Autistic humans who are that open to other humans seem to be far awy from language and verbal thinking. Humans with a direct access to the inner states of other creatures and objects usually don't have an access to the inner states of other humans. They have to tap them rationally. Often they have both, access to creatures and to objects. But mostly not to all kinds of creatures and things but to certain types as birds or metal objects. These humans are verbally very strong. According to my observations by kinds of hyperempathic thinkers are good in receiving non-verbal communication; it seems to be common to them in some regard. They are remarkaby rational in their language and very conscious in their thinking.


thinking in pictures:
excellent (picture-)memory
visual thinking
associative thinking
(rigidly) logical, precise
talking little, difficulties with reading or writing
emotionally open
subtypes: overloads and poor concentration abilities
no overloads and good concentration abilities
thinking in patterns:
details first, concepts later
reasonable memory and concentration
unincidive overloads
very good verbally
(creative) logical thinking
emotionally less open, no "I-mask"
subtypes: analytical thinkers
associative thinkers
hearing as leading perception channel
seeing as leading perception channel (with untypical strengths and weaknesses visually)
structuring thinking:
strukturiing and creative thinking
excellent concentration
strong tendency to constancy
no overloads
stable personalities
functional thinking:
(thinking in functions)
intuitive "theory of function"
distinct reference to objects
distinct feeling as alien
emotionally less open, resting in her- or himself
hyperempathic thinking:
very rational and conscious thinkers
good in non-verbal communication
emotionally open
subtypes: reference to humans and verbally very poor
reference to creatures and objects and verbally very good