ASD and Black and White Thinking

Nelle Frances has written that adults on the spectrum have a “tendency to think of issues as being black and white, rather than considering multiple perspectives in a flexible way”.

Also that “Aspies only ever see or consider two options”.

With all due respect to Nelle Frances, who I am sure has spoken at length with more people on the spectrum than I ever will…

I call … bullshit!!!

(I swear because I find the second quote actually pretty offensive due to the fact that it’s bullshit!)

From my own interactions with people on the spectrum, and my own experience (and yes, I do get the difference and am careful of it), this is not the case at all.

My own experience is a group of people that can, and do, consider all sides of the story, at least as much as the rest of the population.  Of course there will always be people, both on the spectrum and not, who are simply too lazy to think about things.  There are also people on the lower end of the IQ spectrum for whom complex thought may be challenging (a whole different thing, whether they have ASD or not).  However for the most part, and in line with the rest of the population, people on the spectrum do seem to me to be able to look at all sides of a situation.

Where we differ is what occurs after that.  Our opinions on any given situation can be very black and white, for sure.  It isn’t that we haven’t considered it – but that we have rejected or accepted it and that is that.

Neurotypical people seem more likely to change their opinion according to who they are with, or whether it suits them – if they will gain something from it.  People on the spectrum however, don’t.  I’m not sure if this is a general “block” in our thinking, or whether the rest are like me – it’s just either against our moral code, or we simply don’t “get” the whole social deal of it all…

Earlier today, I have had a conversation on this very blog, with a good friend of mine – Ricky.  Her opinion differed to mine.  When I read it, I looked for new information so that I could reconsider my position.  I would have been quite happy to change my position if need be.  There was no new information forthcoming however, so my opinion remains unchanged.  Indeed, in writing the piece, I tried to think of all the different angles, all the different shades of grey.  Certainly I understand where people are coming from, whose opinion differs.  That doesn’t mean I agree with them however.  My own opinion is black and white – once I have it, it stays unless something changes (such as new information).

I understand why it may seem that our thinking itself is very black and white.  I used to be accused of this over and over by a previous psychiatrist.  “Your thinking is black and white!”  She seemed to think that I hadn’t considered the mitigating factors in relation to the person who hurt me because I wouldn’t forgive them, and she couldn’t have been further from the truth.  I had gone over them over and over and over, trying to find something that I could use to forgive them and move on.  I couldn’t find anything however.  So my opinion didn’t change.  There were heaps of reasons, sure, and I understood them all.  At the end of the day however, I can’t forgive someone who won’t admit they have done something wrong.  Is that black and white thinking?  I think it’s just a black and white opinion – a person needs to acknowledge what they have done before they can be forgiven for it, for me (I don’t expect others to follow this just because I do by the way – if you are happy to forgive without this qualifier, then more power to you).

Nelle Frances did get one thing right – when people piss us off, then we drop them like a hot potato.  That same shrink called me a bitch and I never went back.  Of course, it wasn’t the first, second or even third time she had showed completely unprofessional behaviour.  I hate conflict like most (all?) ASDers – so I forgive until I can’t forgive anymore and then that’s it – piss off.

My thinking on the topic of conflict is pretty black and white – a resounding NO lol…  That is more for physical reasons though!  It physically hurts.  We don’t accuse people of black and white thinking because they don’t like slamming their fingers in car doors do we?

And just for shits and giggles – even if you think I’m way off base and I am misunderstanding the whole thing and we (ASDers) do all think in black and white – is there anything wrong with that?  Seriously?  If I am thinking in black and white – am I harming someone, or myself?  How?  If someone is willing to see all sides to a situation but is just very clear about where they stand – what is the problem with that so long as their mind remains open to the possibility of new information?  The way most people write and talk about it, you would think it is the worst thing in the world!

Besides – if you want to see a clear example of black and white thinking… go to a meeting of religious extremists 😉  THAT is an excellent example of a culture of black and white thinking.  ASDers may come across that way, but it’s like the whole “lack of theory of mind” bullshit – it just appears that way to people who don’t display themselves in the same way that we do.

You know… I actually find Neurotypical people think in black and white lol – especially when they are “studying” us.  They seem to make NO allowances for differences in any kind of abstract way.  Can’t talk?  Must be stupid, incapable of thought at all.  Don’t express your feelings like everyone else?  Must lack empathy.  Can’t cook a three course meal in twenty minutes when you are six years old?  Obviously you need life skills training now, so that you will survive adulthood without starving to death.

Black and white thinking – given it’s not true, it really is just another insult to add to the pile.

Note: I know next to nothing about Nelle Frances, and many friends admire her – I am not trying to discredit her, or piss her off, in any way here – I just have different thoughts about this topic is all.

Disability consumer and activist. Pissed off since 1995... Mad as a hatter since way before that.

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7 comments on “ASD and Black and White Thinking
  1. druidwinter says:

    I call bullshit too,
    NT people are black & white and dont like to be wrong. Most ASD spectrum people will completely change their view when reliable evidence supports the facts, AND they update all previous conclusions based on the erroneous information. It is like finding the real answer is the real prize.

    I noticed many NT people will argue and still insist they are right and hand on to fallacy because they get hurt feelings over making a mistake.

  2. Trisa Harris says:

    I really appreciate your honesty and perspective on this topic!

  3. Glee says:

    Hear hear Linda. And druidwinter too!

  4. Jude says:

    the piece you’ve linked to is terrible. not only does the content not match with your experience, mine or anyone else on the spectrum we’ve spoken to, it’s peppered with common phrases in quote marks to remind everyone that no AS person could possibly know what a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” is. fuck. right. off.

    I understand all the nuances of a given argument (or I shut up & listen), but, like you, the fact that someone is doing something morally wrong doesn’t become magically untrue because they have/haven’t experienced X. I can understand that someone may have hurt me because they were scared/didn’t understand/whatever. that doesn’t mean it didn’t really hurt. my cats dig their claws into my lap all the time. I’m not angry with them, but that can’t make me enjoy that sensation.

    I think it’s just another way to silence us. imagine how convenient it must be to be able to dismiss an undesirable point of view like that…

    “look, you only say things like this because you see everything in black & white”

    conversation over.

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Pissed off since 1995. Mad as a hatter since way before that.

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