Thursday, July 21, 2011

Black and White Thinking

One trait I have noticed through my own autism that seems to be true for others on the spectrum as well is that we have a strong tendency to think in black and white.  I am going to clarify what it means to think in black and white through a definition I found on the web:

"Dichotomous thinking is also sometimes called “black or white thinking.” This is when someone is only able to see the extremes of a situation, and is unable to see the “gray areas” or complexities of the situation. For example, a student who engages in dichotomous thinking may believe that if they don't get an "A" in class then they have failed."

I also like to call this an all or nothing mentality.  When I am faced with a problem, I find that only the best case scenario, and the worst case scenario in a given situation.  Think about a parent trying to teach their child with autism that it is safe to approach some people and others should be considered as "strangers."  This is difficult for the child to comprehend if they think in black and white.  To that child, there are only two options: talk to a person or don't talk to a person.  Trying to teach a child with autism about stranger danger goes against their natural tendencies.  In my experience, I have found comfort in the prospect that one kind of action, such as not talking to anybody I don't know already, solved the stranger danger tendency without going against my natural tendencies. 

This is only my experience with a natural all-or-nothing   mentality. Believe me, when I am out in the world trying to live my life, awareness of this tendency does not change the fact that I approach most problems with my black and white thinking.  It's just something that everyone on the autism spectrum needs to work on.

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