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I have such complicated feelings about the way autism is categorised, diagnosed and supported.

While I do agree with the DSM-V’s move towards grouping together the different autism diagnoses, I still think that within that spectrum…
…there is a heterogeneity of presentations, expressions and experiences.

I think there are several ‘autisms’, but all of them overlap enough to indicate commonalities between people’s experiences.
By this, I mean there are different patterns of strengths and weaknesses.

It’s also important to recognise that for now, autism is a *phenomenological* diagnosis based on behaviour patterns. We don’t have the ability to scan a brain and say someone is autistic.
And even if there were, would they identify each ‘flavour’ of autism the same way? I’m sceptical.

I think there are at least four different flavours of autistic experience. I don’t think they correspond to the old labels of ASD, Asperger’s and PDD-NOS, either.
This is all based on anecdotal observations, mind you, though I’d love to see an actual study on this.

Anyway, there seems to be a misconception that ALL autistic people have the same style: extreme concrete & linear thinking, or scattered cognition w/pre-conceptual thinking.
I’ve interacted with hundreds of autistic people both online and off and that doesn’t seem to be the case at all.

I’ve seen four general patterns, though there’s probably even more variation that I’m not seeing.
Some people tend to be more linear and concrete.

Others are linear and abstract, while others are non-linear and concrete and still others are non-linear and abstract. (I’m in the last group.)

These differences vary in intensity and can be influenced by life circumstances.
So, let’s talk about each of the different subcategories.

Concrete thinking focuses on tangible sensory experiences and relationships: people, things and events rather than ideas. Practice over theory. Often corresponds with MBTI ‘sensing’.
If you’re on the far end of the concrete spectrum, you may have a harder time learning about abstract ideas, especially if you can’t connect them to your life/experiences.

Which is understandable when your experience of the world is fundamentally tangibly relational.
Abstraction, on the other hand, is a focus on ideas, organising principles, theories and concepts, rather than tangible experiences.

People who are waaaay out on the abstract end of the spectrum may have a hard time putting their ideas into practice…
…or considering the real-life implications of their ideas. They may be able to generalise across academic & theoretical disciplines, but that skill may not apply to everyday concerns.

(Which is, incidentally, why abstract intellectual ability is NOT THE SAME THING as…
…adaptive functioning, but that is another rant for another day.)

There’s a common stereotype that all autistic people are concrete thinkers, but that’s not true. I tend to think pretty abstractly. I’m abstracting right NOW.
Linearity is the sequential organisation of thought, understanding and learning. Linear thinkers prefer to learn step-by-step, with each topic building on the previous lessons learned.

If you miss a step, you’re likely to miss the point.
I’ve also noticed that a lot of linear autistic people seem to have a harder time picking up on implicit language than their non-linear counterparts, but that’s not universal.

On the other hand, non-linear folks may struggle with highly sequential tasks with a lot of steps.
Finally, there’s non-linearity! Non-linear thinkers do NOT typically arrange their thoughts, understanding and learning in sequential order.

Our learning can look like loose associations, circles, mind maps, holograms, internal mood boards and other distributed models.
In Loud Hands, @myceliorum referred to a kind of ‘pre-conceptual thinking’ rooted in real experiences that seems common in non-linear autistic people.

While they write from a perspective that feels non-linear/concrete, it also applies to non-linear/abstract autistic people.
In non-linear abstract thinkers, pre-conceptual thinking can work along with abstractions to create or understand concepts that recognise both the very real roots of an idea *and* the way it’s been abstracted.
Non-linear concrete thinkers can sense those roots as well, though they have a harder time connecting them to abstract principles.

Non-linear concrete autistic people’s written expressions of their pre-conceptual thinking can LOOK abstract, but the origins are very different.
For example, if you’re a more abstract thinker, you may think of Social Oppression as an organising principle, while if you’re more concrete, you may sense it more viscerally, as a kind of everyday unfairness between people.
Both the abstract and concrete thinker see the social disparities and want to do something about them, but the way they perceive them is different.

If you’re non-linear/abstract, you may get both impressions at the same time, as I do.
With all these styles, you can end up with different combinations: concrete/linear, concrete/non-linear, abstract/linear, abstract/non-linear. I myself am abstract/non-linear.

None is better than the others. All of them have their own patterns of strengths and weaknesses.
There MAY be a correlation between non-linearity and non-verbal thought modes (and linearity and verbal thought modes), but I don’t think it’s universal.

I’m non-linear, but I’m also very verbal. But there’s a bit of a catch: when I think in words, I see them.
Language in my head is typically written with a narrative voice-over.

I also have straightforward movie-like visuals and other sensations, like texture, colour, sound, spatial relationships, diagrams, etc. It’s kind of mixed-media thinking. :P
I don’t think I realised that seeing words in your head when you think them, or thinking in full written sentences, was weird until I was about 32—that was last year!

(Also, words in my head tend to be set in specific typefaces if they’re emphasised.)
Like, when I was 7 or so, most of my thoughts were explicitly typeset in Palatino because the books I was reading used it! In my teens it was often Minion.

Nowadays they seem to appear in a generic sans-serif.
But emphasised words or ideas tend to have a distinct typographic identity. But I remember being acutely aware of typography and lettering at a young age.

I remember HATING particular fonts when I was like, four.
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