The Fireworks Are Interesting


The closer you get to the heart of things, the more words fall apart. First they get shaky. Then they start contradicting each other or getting paradoxical. Then they just fall apart, dissolve, vanish.

The way my thoughts work creates some similar problems for language. And it’s not just that I haven’t found the absolute best combination of words to translate my thoughts with. It’s that on a fundamental level the thoughts don’t translate.

My thoughts, such as I am aware of, are mostly observations of the world, that I have allowed to slowly and quietly settle themselves into patterns. They are not symbols of those observations. Symbols would have a better chance translating. They are also silent — no words pop in to describe them, there is no “loudness” about them, they don’t announce themselves with any kind of fanfare. I suspect to many people they would seem like an absence of thought.

I have also observed words. I have seen which clusters of words attach most frequently to which situations. And that is how I use words — as imperfect translations of situations that present themselves in my mind. I use words because they are the most readily recognized way to communicate with most people.

[With some people, words are not necessary. There are better ways to communicate. That is wonderful in every sense of the word.]

The way I use words can present problems though. I start with a situation and then I throw words at it. The problem is for any given situation there are many ways you could approach it with words. Some of those words might even seem contradictory if set side by side. But it’s not that the situation itself is contradictory, it’s just that language can be complex that way.

For instance, in my last post I described what could be called, and what are often called, subtypes of autism.

Someone replied saying they don’t believe in one type or many types of autism but that it seemed from my post as if I believe there are many.

The reality is more complicated than that.

Autism is not a thing. There are only the people who get called autistic.

I recently tried to describe the process that led to modern notions of autism. I have read many of the original sources for that and for other areas of psychiatric classification. My language skills were less fluent than stuff I normally publish online, but even though I am eating again (I was sick when I wrote it) I still can’t come up with more fluent language for the description I gave of the way ideas of autism have come about.

Were original people designated as autistic.

Original people had their be.

Original people had their “seem to professionals”.

Those not the same.

Then people later might identify with the be. Or with the seem to professionals. Or with the seem to professionals of the original seem to professionals.

So later version of who is autistic ==

People be like original people be.
People be like original people seem to professionals.
People be like original seem to professionals seem to later professionals.
People seem (to self or professional or family) like original people be.
People seem (to …) like original people seem to professionals.
People seem (to …) like original seem to professionals seem to later professionals.

Which total complicate what people see now as one thing and try to find one common deficit.

So when I say autism it is a shorthand for a modern language-based classification of a bunch of human beings that involved a lot of biases, historical accidents, and clutter-minded evolution of the sort I described above.

So when I say subtype of autism I mean there are people with some cognitive things in common, who also happen to be classified by those stilts-upon-stilts-upon-stilts standards as autistic. I mean to refer to real live people that I have observed patterns in. Not the baggage that comes with the words.

So I could just as easily have described us in a way that involved a questioning of the entire category system that gave birth to notions like “autism has many types” or “autism has one type”.

This may not be the same reason that the guy who replied to me doesn’t believe in those things. But it is still a lack of belief in those things. And my lack of belief in those things is not changed by my use of the words that most people are familiar with — autism, subtypes, and so on. My lack of belief in those things also is not a good reason for a troll to reply saying something like “If you don’t believe in those things then stop calling yourselves autistic damn you.” To say such a thing is to take my words on entirely the wrong level, and such comments will be cheerfully deleted.

There are third, and fourth, and fifth, and so on, ways to describe the situation in the last post or for that matter in any of my posts. It can be hard to know which one to use, whether to combine a few, or what. And no matter which way I choose, I will be leaving out a world of important things.

Because of this, please don’t persist in telling me what I believe after I have confirmed I don’t believe it. It doesn’t matter if you come up with ten separate examples of words you are totally certain prove I believe something or come at it from a certain viewpoint. If I say I don’t, then I don’t.

To get back to the way I think, I am not even certain I have “beliefs” (even if I use the shorthand as if I do). Once you peel back the layers of language that I use for communication… I have observations and experiences, I have patterns of observations and experiences, and so on. “Belief” seems to require jumping up into language again. So do many other concepts that seem more language-based than anything. Language forces me to use many concepts that have nothing to do with the way my mind works when I am not writing. Those concepts form weird mesh-like frameworks in people’s heads and they then associate me with the mesh-like frameworks instead of with the person beneath them. (And it’s not just me this happens to, but everything.)

But if you look between the words (not the same as between the lines), rather than at them, you can start to see things far more interesting than the words themselves. (This is not abstract. This is as concrete as it gets. The words are the abstractions.)

The use of language has the annoying property of insisting on the reality of lots of abstract concepts. Even seemingly concrete words like “green” are arbitrary, and different languages will divide the colors different ways. (The Irish language, I am told, has more than one word that translates as green and one of them involves colors that in English would be specific shades of green, grey, and brown.) Whereas just looking at an object of certain colors doesn’t require figuring out how any given language classifies them. So literally anything I perceive has to go through a horrid process of translation and distortion and oversimplification. Even the most “literal” language is hopelessly abstract compared to what language is trying to describe.

Every single time I write, I pick up a set of tools. Those tools are the phrases I cobble together into sentences.

“Subtype of autism” is one example of such a tool. It is a shorthand for certain people that I have made certain observations about.

Just because I happen to use the nearest available set of translation tools does not mean I have, in picking up those tools, agreed to the entire worldview of the people who built the tools. I don’t have to agree that autism is a real thing, or that it is not socially constructed, in order to use phrases that include the term. I use these tools because the alternative is silence, not because I have picked up an entire set of beliefs about the world with every phrase I use.

Even more, my failure to describe something does not mean I haven’t observed it. A friend once told me that she envisioned my brain as having these enormous clumps of detailed information, but without a way to access most of it. Most of what I know, I can’t say. What I do say is just an approximation of a sliver of what is in here. Notice how much trouble I had describing part of the history of autism. Even when not sick almost all my attempts have looked similar. Does this mean I lack awareness of what has happened? Does this mean I view autism as a concrete reality, as a type of neurology, as all these other ideas words bring in? No. Not even if I use the word “neurotype”. I know this can be hard to understand but it’s true. No matter what I say will leave out 99% of the information and distort the rest. Don’t be fooled by words.

All of this is just a reminder for everyone, of how and how not to read the words I write. I am not trying to force anyone, or to say everyone is able to do this. I am just trying to give a reminder of how I do and don’t work. If it doesn’t make sense, don’t sweat it. It’s hard to get words to make sense on a topic as completely opposed to words as this one. It’s a little bit like seeing antimatter and trying to use matter in it’s vicinity. The fireworks are interesting.

About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods, which tell me who I am and where I belong in the world. I relate to objects as if they are alive, but as things with identities and properties all of their own, not as something human-like. Culturally I'm from a California Okie background. Crochet or otherwise create constantly, write poetry and paint when I can. Proud member of the developmental disability self-advocacy movement. I care a lot more about being a human being than I care about what categories I fit into.

29 responses »

  1. It is so odd to me that people try to argue with you about anything you post. Everything I’ve ever seen you write is just you describing your own life experiences. How could anyone else claim to be able to correct you in that area? Weird!
    That said, here is my attempt to translate what you wrote in the language which I will now label “autish.” I hope my interpretation is accurate, and feel free to correct me if not:
    “When autism was first introduced as a concept in literature, professionals labeled autistic people with certain traits. These labels were not always accurate and often differed somewhat from the reality of the situation.
    As time progressed, new generations of people began to compare themselves to (or be diagnosed in comparison to) either the actual traits of autistic people, to the description of autism that professionals had written, or to later professionals’ interpretation of that description.
    People can then interpret autism to mean any of those three things, or a combination.
    As a result, people now see at least three versions of autism, and use whatever one they understand to label someone autistic. This makes it very confusing, because failing to agree on one common term makes it so one person’s use of the word autism could have almost nothing in common with another’s.”

    It seems that your point is that your definition of autism is different from the definition others use, and so anyone arguing with you about whether you are autistic or what you think autism means may just be interpreting the word autism differently.
    To me it seems obvious that your definition is much more valid than theirs, but that’s just my opinion.

  2. I’m reminded of a quote (I’m not sure who or when, or the exact words):

    Before one studies Zen, a mountain is a mountain.
    After one has studied Zen for a little while, a mountain is not a mountain.
    After one has studied Zen for a longer time, a mountain is a mountain again.

  3. Amanda, what you’re saying about words being a shorthand, a placeholder, for experiences that can’t be translated really resonates for me.
    My relationship to language works like this: 1) sensory experience 2) spelled-out word pictures appearing in my mind that ground the experience (without adequately containing it), 3) a sense of leaving experience in order to describe it, or waiting until the experience is over in order to describe it, and 4) more or less rocky re-entry into sensory experience. This goes on constantly, although there are times that I don’t want or need the word pictures because I’m working with visuals, and those are the times I feel most peaceful.

    And yeah, I say that if people don’t believe you when you clarify what you mean, there’s no reason to continue the conversation. It’s such a trigger for many of us, who haven’t had our experiences believed, to keep on arguing, but I’m never going to win with someone who keeps challenging my assessment of my own process. Either people give me the respect of believing me, or they can move on down the road and bother someone else.

  4. This is the second time someone’s brought up Zen recently. I guess I can see how people get that out of my writing, but I do distinguish between people who spend their whole lives struggling with some of the most difficult aspects of the human condition, and someone whose brain prefers a certain cognitive mode over others.

  5. My abilities are not at all spatial like Amanda’s. I am deficient in all things spatial. My brain likes to work with visual images. Thus if someone just says words to me that I cannot see spelled I almost cannot hear them. Someone might say something to me and I will have to have them write it down on paper before I can really hear it well or process it. I often have people make diagrams so I can understand what they have said. Foreign language emersion programs make scrambled eggs of my brain. I have to see picures of foreign words to process them well. Auditory and spatial learning don’t work well for me. I think that is one reason history was always hard for me as often it was taught lecture style with little visual and I couldn’t hold on to the words. Math on the other hand was very visual and therefore easy for me. I think Amanda learned math best when it was presented spatially. She seemed to sense a lot intuitively through the spatial way it was presented. Not sure I said that right. Correct me Amanda if I stated that wrong. I often think schools should present things in many ways so all students can learn in their most natural way. Written language has always been easier for me then spoken language. I often have to search for the right word to describe something and often times the word doesn’t exist in the English language but perhaps in another language. I find that fascinating, culture and language. I heard that the French don’t put so much emphasis on fitting in but rather on individualism so they don’t even have a word for popularity. I don’t know french so I don’t actually know if that is true but I like to think that it is. Fitting in for fitting ins sake is highly overrated.

  6. The idea that autistic people (or blind people, or deaf people, or people with intellectual disabilities, or whatever) innately have access to some kind of insight or wisdom or state of understanding that “ordinary” people have to spend lots of effort to achieve, intrinsically strikes me as other-izing, holy-fool-izing ableism. Just prettied up and with frills on.

    I’ve run into this attitude too when confronted with the fact that some of my perceptions when not on drugs (psychedelics specifically) are apparently similar to those of non-autistic people who are on drugs. No, it doesn’t give me “insight”– my entire neurology from birth has shaped itself around the fact that these are my normal modes of perception, which is not the same experience at all as having a neurology shaped around a different mode of perception and suddenly shunted into an unfamiliar one by a chemical. When I do contemplate things like my place in the universe or seem to feel a sense of my place in the world more acutely than usual, it’s fairly uncontrolled and usually not triggered by any of the kinds of things that are “supposed” to trigger those sorts of thoughts and feelings, on or off drugs. It isn’t something that lingers; it’s something that comes and goes.

    And any idea that disabled or mentally atypical people can “show the way” to a “simpler/more honest/more enlightened” way of perceiving the world or living in it is something I react to like someone trying to put poison in my body. We’ve kind of summed up our ideas about that here— about overblown fake “respect” that’s actually all about what a more dominant group thinks they can get from you. Really, if I honestly and truly believed I had the secret to enlightenment, or to oneness with the universe, or whatever, I’d be trying to share it, without anyone asking me to do so. But I don’t, so… please, no one bother trying to pick my mind for “secrets” I don’t possess. (I’ve read various writings on esoteric traditions and mysticism and struggled just as much to understand parts of them as “normal” people are supposed to.)

    And I’m not saying either of the people who brought up Zen wrt Amanda’s writings were necessarily thinking any or all of these things– it’s just something that people ought to be wary of in dealing with people with less power and privilege than themselves, the fact that what you may think is respect and praise may be coming partly from a trained instinct to other-ize and to view certain types of people in terms of what they can do for people like you.

  7. That said I think all of us need those around us who understand on some level who we are and value our friendship. For me shared values are important as are interests. I have many friends who are different from me in many ways but we share some common interest such as a love of animals and animal welfare or photography or gardening or political goals or elder rights.

    While people often have differences in view I agree with Rachel that someone challanging one’s own assessment of their own processes crosses a line.

  8. That’s exactly how I feel about words. They’re just tools, and it’s so hard to get anybody to understand that. I’m used to needing other people’s words to translate things like other people’s beliefs and communicate, but I myself can’t put the information in my brain into words, not the information that isn’t other people’s information and beliefs into worlds.

  9. Julian: Definitely agreed on the holy fool crap. In addition to the otherizing, it can trivialize the struggle inherent in spirituality that exists for everyone, by basically saying we were born without the need for that struggle. (Another one that gets me is “incapable of sin”, which makes it sound like everything we do is 100% ethical.)

    I once got into a terrible argument with a woman who treated her severely disabled daughter like an “angel on earth”, I bet she’d have said “pillow angel” if terms like that existed back then. She decided I was some kind of demon incarnate and our conversations finally ended when she accused me of doing something weird and evil to her that I couldn’t have done if I had wanted to. I had questioned too much of her take on reality, and it was like since I did not acknowledge the spiritual superiority of her child, she figured that I had to be evil because anyone with an ounce of goodness would immediately grasp that her daughter was an angelic innocent. And this is why I know why Kassi calls herself the Rett Devil. (The girl in question had Rett’s and apparently “Rett angel” is a common phrase in that community.)

  10. I often feel like what I do with words is I build enough of a structure to hopefully say what I need to say then the structure falls down and later I build another one. Whereas a lot of people seem to build them then keep them and live in them. And that creates some incredible misunderstandings.

  11. That’s more or less what I do with words. It can get very complex, like the sentences will even look all ‘educated’ and stuff, but I’ll just be sort of circling around the issue, never finding words and phrases and sentences that actually get to what I want to say. But the words still say something and that’s what other people will get out of it. Then I can put in disclaimers about how I can’t really get to what I want to say and this is as good as it gets, but not really what I mean, but you can only hope they take your word for it. Especially if the language looks complex and intelligent or whatever, they’ll be less likely to believe you can’t say what you mean.

    Often I’ll end up trying to stick more words and phrases on, in different ways, and the posts just get overly long and wordy and repeat stuff a lot.

    I use other people’s descriptions a lot. When I feel they get really close. Some other people seem to have found a better way to describe their thoughts in words, so if it feels like their thoughts match mine, I can use their words. I sort of build words around certain topics that way, but I’ll also be stuck with whatever patterns of words and sentences and stuff there are and if I want to say something different, I’ll still be mostly unable to translate my own mode of thinking into words, or be stuck using words that don’t actually describe it.

    I don’t really know what my mode of thinking is, but I know it’s not in words or pictures or other kinds of visuals, the way other people often describe. My ‘native’ mode of thinking, that is. Once I learn about a topic in words or pictures, I can use those too.

    On the other hand, I am said to have some talent with words. I’m pretty good at using words, as long as I’m not trying to describe my own thinking. People are not likely to believe that someone can have both a talent and problems in the same area. I think what the talent is, is that I can use the way I perceive words/sentences, to build a structure that looks good to others. It requires an effort that I don’t often put in, not outside of school or wanting to write a book or story. Sometimes it happens spontaneously because I’ve been reading a specific author a lot, and I tend to mimic people’s style both in writing and in speech after exposure (not under my control).

    I also find it easier to build English than Dutch, it seems better suited to the way I use it. In writing, anyway.

  12. this is what i’m always trying to tell my students about translating when they speak one language and are trying to speak another. they have to think of the reality behind the english words and try to say that reality in spanish words and it’s not always going to be done in the same way (if at all). the whole idea that the reality behind the words exists separate from the words seems to be a new idea to monolinguals, sometimes.

  13. This is very much how I use words, too.

    This part, especially, is almost exactly what it’s like for me:

    My thoughts, such as I am aware of, are mostly observations of the world, that I have allowed to slowly and quietly settle into patterns. They are not symbols of those observations. Symbols would have a better chance translating. They are also silent — no words pop in to describe them, there is no “loudness” about them, they don’t announce themselves with any kind of fanfare. I suspect to many people they would seem like an absence of thought.

    I have also observed words. I have seen which clusters of words attach most frequently to which situations. And that is how I use words — as imperfect translations of situations that present themselves in my mind.

    One difference, though, is that for me, the more the observations (which to me are always visual images) jostle around, encounter each other and settle into bigger patterns, the likelier it is that something language-like will emerge. For me, language seems to come from the relationships that form between my thoughts; I guess because relating one thing to another, in my mind, works enough like logic that it can easily be translated into words. So I feel like the closer I get to the heart of something, the better the odds are that I’ll be able to express what I know in words.

    Even with that, though, I also feel that the words and theories and relationships I do churn out are provisional. Like drawing something, writing about it can be a different, more intense way of thinking about it, and what I think might well change between starting to write about a particular topic and then coming back to it later, or even finishing the same piece.

    Using Amanda’s structure metaphor, I also figure that my wordy edifices will fall down at some point. I might go back and try to fish out some nifty bits for use in later structures, or I might re-use the same components in different combinations.

    I do feel like I’m getting better at communicating, whether through speech or writing, over the years, even though I do seem to fail more often now. I’m *trying* to express a lot more, which an earlier me wouldn’t even necessarily have recognized as thoughts that could be shared, let alone try to share them.

    (I also have a fairly complicated, ambivalent idea of how my education has shaped my communication style. Learning to write a certain way, being asked to write in that way a lot — it made me comfortable with writing, but it may also have estranged me somewhat from my thoughts in their native form. It may have taught me that what I do isn’t thinking, not really, and it may have added a lot more steps to my process for describing my ideas).

  14. Yeah. The fireworks are interesting, especially when we try to say something that we think means something, and its interpreted in a completely different direction.

    “Interesting” isn’t always a good thing, if it causes overload and frustration! I can feel a lot of that, through this post. I don’t know if you were frustrated at any time while writing this post, or were thinking about/remembering feeling that way, (and your writing doesn’t come across as frustrated or angry) but what you are describing here is inherently frustrating (for me at least, and it also makes me angry……when my words are misinterpreted)

    Perhaps they are misinterpreted because they are very poor translations of what I’m really thinking sometimes…….

    To mom: we’re crap at spatial things most of the time.

  15. And also there are expressions in foreign languages that simply have no English translation. Instead of just having nontranslating expressions, you have almost an entire LANGUAGE of thinking that does not translate (at least directly, or very well) into words. I think…..correct us if we’re wrong, but that’s what we understood from your post.

    We can definitely appreciate the need for “long periods of seemingly unoccupied time.” Your brain sure works hard, translating your thinking patterns into words. And also the need for a whole lot of personal space when at conferences such as the one we met at…..

  16. Reminds me of the saying, “people make up words to describe the world, and then argue about the words.” (or something like that)

  17. Like many others here, I, too, experience a level of thought that innately occurs without words.

    For me, perhaps because I do not have language processing difficulties, the process of “translating” my thoughts into words/language (or the process of wrapping words around my thoughts in a way that will help convey something pretty close to those thoughts to other people) is fairly seamless. It’s automatic enough that most of the time I’m not especially conscious of that process happening. But when I pay attention, or am in the right frame of mind, then I do still sense a current of thought going on inside my head that exists before the words become attached to it. It’s sort of as if you were listening to both the English original of something and also a translated version of it that lagged a split second behind: you hear one language first, then you hear the other language say something very close to it just a split second later (though maybe with slight variations in nuance of meaning, because no two languages will have vocabulary expressing exactly the same concept in exactly the same ways).

    And then there are times when I have a thought but the words don’t immediately wrap themselves around it. This tends to happen for newly emerging, complex thoughts. Or it can happen sometimes when I am in the process of learning a lot of new information and ideas (for example, if I am doing a research paper on a brand new topic I haven’t done before). The new ideas, information, concepts etc. take time to percolate inside my head and forge new connections among themselves, and with the old information I knew before learning the new information. And some of these new connections are initially made at a subconscious level without the use of language–these are ideas that other people don’t teach me directly I just extrapolate them from the new information I’m given. So because they haven’t been formally taught, and because they are new and alien thoughts inside my head, I might not immediately have a mechanism for “translating” them into words. So it may take longer to find the right way to wrap words around those brand new ideas.

    When I was younger, I was greatly surprised and confused to discover that some people seem to believe that it isn’t possible to have “thought” without words or language. The idea of thought occurring without language was so innately obvious to me that I was bewildered to discover that, apparently, not everyone experiences their thoughts this way. Maybe for some people the translation process is so automated (even more automated than mine, perhaps?) that they just have no time to notice the pre-linguistic current of thought that continues to stream through their heads? Or maybe some people just have more difficulty noticing this languageless stream of thought in the same way that some people (as per our discussion in other posts at this blog) have difficulty recognizing the signals our own bodies send us to tell us that we are tired, or too hot/cold, or hungry. Except that, from an evolutionary perspective, there is a lot more need to recognize body signals for discomfort than there is to recognize what thought feels like before language is wrapped around it, so it is far more common to recognize body signals for discomfort than it is to recognize what language-less thought feels like inside the head.

    I also wonder if the fact that I had no language until the age of 3 has anything to do with the fact that I can at least SENSE my word-less thoughts and (to some extent) hold them in my head without necessarily wrapping words around them right away (even if my instinct does generally drive me to immediately cloak them in words). Maybe it gave me a little more time than most people have to learn how to examine ideas inside my head without using words to do it.

    Given that many of the people here talking about thinking without words also have language processing difficulties, I wonder if this might be a factor for some of the other people here also. A person with language processing difficulties might be delayed in learning to use language the way others use it. And that, too, would give you more time to learn to think without words. The fact that language processing difficulties continue even after you do in fact learn to use language in a more or less standard way (even if with great struggle, and with more conscious effort than most people need, and even with being very conscious that language really IS an imperfect tool for expressing thoughts) means that it continues to feel more comfortable to think without language when the opportunity offers itself. Unlike me who CAN translate thoughts to language more or less fluently (except for maybe being more acutely conscious than many others of how language does sometimes need to be manipulated and played with a lot before it will be a truly close fit to thought … I have often felt that my skill as a writer exists precisely BECAUSE I am conscious of the difference between the words I say and the thoughts inside my head, and the occasional incongruity I sense drives me to keep working on the language until it fits better, unlike people who assume that the first words they come up with necessarily match their thoughts perfectly because they don’t know how to separate their thoughts from their language … and because they may fail to recognize the subtly nuanced difference between their own thoughts and their own language they stop striving for a better expression of their thoughts). Though this can’t be entirely the case because I know people who sincerely believe that thought can’t occur without words who are nevertheless good writers. Maybe for them, words are how they discover what they are thinking because they can’t access their own thoughts directly without the words. So they form words, realize that it sounds funny, and recast the words until they “sound right” (express ideas better). And assume the whole time that all their thoughts are in entirely in words because that’s the only layer of thought they can perceive.

    I know I am rambling a lot. I hope I have made some sense.

  18. Yes, I think the reason I identify more with people based on receptive than expressive language ability is that you can think in words and have perfect language processing and still not be able to speak or type. But serious enough receptive delays force you to think outside language. If you don’t even know what language is for, you’re not going to be thinking or relating to the world through it.

    I definitely have noticed commonalities with deaf people who were exposed to language late. (Both in terms of thinking and in terms of certain aspects of isolation.)

  19. Yes, that sounds really familiar.

    On the other hand, I’ve got good receptive language, I can understand almost everything I read, but I can’t even put most of my thoughts into words – or at least not easily. And yet what you’ve described sounds like the inside of my head.

    On the other hand, when I read the ideas flash from being words to being images so quiclkly I don’t have to deal with the words really at all. Which is good because I have to translate eveything before I can understand it.

    I think it’s the difference between seeing a magician pull a python out of a hat, and being told to do the same thing. I can definitely see the python – but actually doing it…

  20. I do not know how to think without words. I don’t deny that people can and do think without words. I just can’t imagine how it is done, let alone do it.

    “Have their be” is a beautiful phrase.

  21. Pingback: Abilities, and burnout « Urocyon's Meanderings

  22. Wow! I seem to think very much like Mrs. (not Miss) Baggs. I even learned most of my music visually, at least to start. (see that mark, press this key) I’m the guy in church taking notes and making diagrams during the sermon. I think I’ve bought exactly one audio book in my life, but literally several tons of printed books.

  23. I want to ask Cap’n Lex, over at, what kind of thinking he was doing when doing his job as a Naval Aviator. If you read his blog, you’ll see that he’s very good with words, but he made his living for a long time flying jet fighters, and was an instructor at Top Gun for a while.

    I cannot believe that one can think in words, or even visually, when engaging in aerial combat and live to tell about it. That would definitely seem to require some kind of global spacially-aware thinking, at a non-verbal level.

  24. To Justthisguy,

    It took years before I realized I am a visual learner. I just felt slow at many types of learning and fast at others but I hadn’t sorted it out. Amanda once wrote about being a spatial learner and it was the first time it gelled in my mind that I am a visual learner and what that meant for me. She talked about how to recognize by words what type of learner one is…as in I will say “I see what you mean” while an auditory learner might say “I hear what you mean”. Recognizing it as a fact of life has freed me in a way as I will ask readily now for a visual drawing of a concept if I need it. I look at it as a cognitive map of sorts. I also recognize that my visual learning is very positive in some circumstances while in other situations it might be a handicap. Putting me into a immersion type foreign language class would be a disaster. On the other hand I learn quite well when things are visually presented. Spatially I am a disaster. I can get lost coming out a different store door then the one I get in and I can’t find my car. Thank goodness my husband and children just accepted this deficit and stepped in to help me.
    Using what I call stick maps drawn by others over the years I have actually, I believe, put down a few more neural pathways and have actually gained an increment in this spatial area. Acceptance is everything. We all have different abilities and deficits. Thanks to my children I never got truly lost over the years and always made my way home. :)

    I wish all schools would analyze each student and identify their type of learning and give them helpful hints on how to navigate the system with that style. It would be nice too if the system allowed more then one choice in learning…like spatially taught math…or lets say visual history…One should not have to struggle.

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  26. mom — actually the thing about “I see what you mean,” etc. turns out to be mostly false. I just repeated what I’d heard somewhere, and later on learned it wasn’t too meaningful after all. (Which is good because I am pretty indiscriminate what sense I refer to.)

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  28. Pingback: Disrespect or disability? Take two « Urocyon's Meanderings

  29. Hi, there! I just found out that I’m technically on the autism spectrum (I have NLD), and am watching two boys, one with Asperger’s and one with Autism. The boy with Autism has this tick or something that he does when his medicine is running out (he has ADD, and is on medicine for it) or when he’s upset. He’ll change words and letters… for instance, a “y” or the word “why” has to become a “z”, whether written or verbal. B is converted into P. Too,two, and to are “three.” And sounds like “no” and “now” MUST be “new.” It concerns me that it’s kinda growing to a bigger body of sounds. It *totally* bothers me when he changes the sounds in his name. I wonder if anyone has insights about his motivation for this. I’m starting to discipline him for it, because it seems like something that is inhibiting his communication greater and greater. I just hope it doesn’t get really bad. He’s still a kid, and by “discipline,” I mean putting him in time-out. I’m also trying to help him out with relaxing techniques, so he has other ways to relieve his stress.

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