Posted in Autistic Identity

Thinking in words

This is a reblog from an article I posted around November or December of 2016.  Last night, I was watching an episode of Raising Hope when the Chances are working on their GED.  When Burt, the dad, is being tutored from his son’s co-worker at the store, they are reading Shakespeare.  Burt says he keeps seeing words so the play is boring to him and his tutor tells him that’s dumb and he should instead think of pictures when he reads, since that’s how everyone else does it.  I shouted “ableist” at the screen since, well, that’s not how I do things.

And I’m very highly literate and have read much Shakespeare.

This talk about thinking in text led me to discover more about myself through some helpful blog readers (I think Nicole C. was one of them) who helped me to discover that aphantasia is the name for what this is.  So, if you do this, too, you are not alone.  And it isn’t “dumb” (ableist slur that that is) to think in words; it’s just different.

So, here’s all about thinking in words, from my perspective.

Temple Grandin wrote a book called Thinking in Pictures.  In it, she described how many Autistics (including her) think in pictures.  Recently, in Autchat when we were covering invalidation and doubt (about whether we were really Autistic), it came up that at one point someone didn’t realize that people didn’t all think in pictures.  Then some of us offered that we were word-thinkers.

My world stopped, briefly.


I used to play this text game, Modus Operandi, obsessively.  Even when I moved over to graphics, playing Star Wars Galaxies and Everquest 2 for hours upon hours, I’d still find myself coming back.  Even though I’d be constantly fighting and mad at various people (whom I now know were the neurotypicals in the game), I could find people I’d enjoy spending time with (the Neurodivergent folk) and those who, over time, became tolerant of how I was with just…well, that’s just how she is.

As an aside, this is why I like small schools for Autistics, if they must go to school at all: at a certain point, you become protective of the weirdoes since they’re YOUR weirdoes and that’s kind of helpful.

At any rate, I typically dream in feelings and thoughts.  Like, I know what’s happening, but I never see, hear, or smell anything.  People talk about dreaming of color or in black and white, and I dream in NOTHING, yet I know I’m dreaming.  I know the plot and what-all.  When I’m text-gaming, though, I get images to go with my dreams sometimes…and those images are white words on a black screen.  Yes, I dream in text.

But I also “think” in words.  I’ll talk to myself in my head and think about words and what they mean.  I’ll talk out loud sometimes if I also need to hear the words.  But if I’m trying to describe something, I don’t get images, I get words.

I notice when I’m reading that, thinking back, teachers always talked about the “picture in your head” you get when you read.  I’ve never got that unless I’ve forced myself to, and even then, it’s fleeting.  The words have been enough.  And like many Autistics, I’m hyperlexic, so I read by the age of two.  One of the earliest family stories is of me springing myself from my crib to get books since someone had forgotten to put me to bed with some.  This worked great…but I threw them all in the bed and didn’t have the arm strength to get myself back in, so I had to cry to get help.

Before I could speak, there were words on pages.  And they had significant meaning.

Even now, when I read, I devour the book.  Someone once asked me if I took a speed-reading course.  I hadn’t, and asked why.  He said it’s like you read DOWN the page, like a scanner, and not side to side.  I’d had no idea that was different.  Nor did I understand what a teacher meant when she asked us to “read in our heads” since I’d only ever read that way and had to be asked to read aloud.  I know now a bunch of kids were doing that whisper-read thing.

But I wasn’t picturing things in my head; the words were enough, and I could “fill in” words quite quickly.  I don’t have one of those photographic memories, though, and reread books constantly.  The story lives in my head but not the specific placement of the words on the page.

There’s something unsettling when you finally realize that you think divergently, and there’s always more to learn.

Who would have thought that the way to describe how I think is “thinking in words”…and while I’m not thinking in the “typical” way, I’m also not fully alone.

I think in words.

This explains why I’ve been so frustrated over the last year since Modus closed.  I can’t decide if I have the energy to seek out a new game or not (there are a LOT of social rules and expectations in other games), yet without it, I feel a little empty inside.  My husband talked about creating a new game as a coding project, and I think maybe we need to try to find a way to move forward with it.

For me, there’s no stim like the marriage of gaming in text with a person whose mind thinks in text.

I don’t care how “old school” it is to game that way, now that I know it’s part of who I am as a person.

And thanks to my “neurosibs,” I finally can explain it.

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