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View Full Version : What autistic people read / Temple Grandin



Sophia
02-24-2010, 10:35 PM
First, I want to apologize if I have worded this title and post poorly. I'm not intentionally generalizing across the autism spectrum and I hope that I'm not causing any offence.

In this TED talk (http://www.ted.com/talks/temple_grandin_the_world_needs_all_kinds_of_minds. html), Temple Grandin talks about the way she thinks in pictures, and how she notices visual cues that non-autistic people often don't pick up on. There is a lot more to the talk than that, and it's worth listening to right to the end of the questions that follow it. This early part was what particularly made me think about writing and reading, however.

My question is, are the writers and readers with autism here drawn to particular types of writing? For example, I imagine that pattern thinkers may like mysteries with clues sprinkled throughout the book, or hard science stories where the consequences of a specific technological advance can be extrapolated and explored in the book. Do books that paint very clear visual images with their word choices work well for visual thinkers, or do the words themselves get in the way? The whole idea of people thinking and looking at the world in particular ways interests me in terms of giving those characteristics to characters.

If I'm completely off-base here and the answer to the above is, autistic people read exactly the same range of books non-autistic people do with no special preference, then I'll just go with that. I hope this isn't a massive foot-in-mouth question.

Polenth
02-24-2010, 10:56 PM
It's a little unclear whether you want to know about autistic people or people with non-verbal thought patterns. You're flipping between them as though they're the same thing, but they're not.

Kitty Pryde
02-24-2010, 11:01 PM
I don't have autism, but I used to have hundreds of campers (and some staff) at summer camp with autism spectrum disorders. I don't think you can generalize that people with ASD like certain kinds of books. The littler kids (who like books) tended to like any old picture book you read to them, slightly older ones read novels at whatever reading level they were at, teenagers liked adult novels, YA novels, and graphic novels. And some wouldn't pick up a book to save their lives, and still others couldn't read. In other words, pretty typical tastes. I think a book that is SOLELY about complex social interactions and nothing else (like, I dunno, Gossip Girl) doesn't hold much interest.

There's one hilarious scene in a Temple Grandin documentary I watched a while ago, where she talks about how completely uninterested she is in anything in a women's magazine, because those topics hold no interest to her...But on the other hand, some women with ASDs think that makeup and clothes and body image and dating are really super important.

It's been pretty well observed that Sci Fi and fantasy fandom has a higher than average concentration of fans on the autism spectrum (mostly teens/adults). There are numerous reasons for this--SFF novels tend to have interestingly detailed systems to explore, they tend to be about concrete action and not just social interactions, and they are often about characters who are Others and their quest for acceptance or just their quests in general. Good blog post on tor.com about it here: http://www.tor.com/?id=52927&option=com_content&view=blog

Lyra Jean
02-24-2010, 11:48 PM
My brother who is on the low end of the spectrum with autism. He recently got rediagnosed and we're just waiting for the results.

He likes action and dinosaurs.

Him and my mom are currently reading S.M. Stirling's Dies the Fire series. He thinks it's like the show "Life After People" but with the people. He's 28 years old.

He doesn't like lots of description and if it's his turn to read and there's a lot of description he'll throw in a random dinosaur to wreak havoc upon the people.

He also loves humor and likes to make things funny rather than scary.

He's also into knowing all about the stock market. He has stocks. And he collects coins so anything about that.

That's my 2 cents. I hope it helps.

kuwisdelu
02-25-2010, 12:01 AM
Hmm. I have Asperger's, so this is from the very high-functioning end of the spectrum.

I've never really thought about it. My tastes lean toward literary fiction. A few of the peculiarities that come to mind, I suppose, are I enjoy lyrical description — specifically I notice that I enjoy repetition that annoys some other readers, because I usually see nuances between each repetition that other people don't make or care about.

Another thing is I tend to really enjoy books filled with arcane esoterica. I love random, abstruse bits of information and strange, interesting new words in books that send me scrambling for the dictionary or wikipedia. The more obscure the better. And I love metaphors that use complex scientific principles to explain something typical and everyday to everyone else. Explanations of human interaction using similes to theoretical physics and higher mathematics absolutely hooks me.

Sophia
02-25-2010, 01:20 AM
It's a little unclear whether you want to know about autistic people or people with non-verbal thought patterns. You're flipping between them as though they're the same thing, but they're not.

I'm hoping for responses from anyone who falls somewhere on the autism spectrum. I was going by the terms used in Temple Grandin's talk, where she talks about pattern thinking and visual thinking (among others) as types of autistic thinking. I'm not sure what is meant by non-verbal; I don't think it's a term she used specifically.


It's been pretty well observed that Sci Fi and fantasy fandom has a higher than average concentration of fans on the autism spectrum (mostly teens/adults). There are numerous reasons for this--SFF novels tend to have interestingly detailed systems to explore, they tend to be about concrete action and not just social interactions, and they are often about characters who are Others and their quest for acceptance or just their quests in general. Good blog post on tor.com about it here: http://www.tor.com/?id=52927&option=com_content&view=blog

That's really interesting and helpful, thank you very much!


He likes action and dinosaurs.

He doesn't like lots of description and if it's his turn to read and there's a lot of description he'll throw in a random dinosaur to wreak havoc upon the people.

Yes, that does help, thank you! Has your brother ever said what it is about lots of description that he doesn't like?


I enjoy lyrical description — specifically I notice that I enjoy repetition that annoys some other readers, because I usually see nuances between each repetition that other people don't make or care about.

Another thing is I tend to really enjoy books filled with arcane esoterica. I love random, abstruse bits of information and strange, interesting new words in books that send me scrambling for the dictionary or wikipedia. The more obscure the better. And I love metaphors that use complex scientific principles to explain something typical and everyday to everyone else. Explanations of human interaction using similes to theoretical physics and higher mathematics absolutely hooks me.

Thank you, thank you for this - it fits so well, I'm practically writing you wholesale into my WIP. :) I know this is very hand wavey and I hope you don't mind me asking: do you think these preferences are because of the Asperger's, or would you likely have them without it? Are these preferences reflected in other areas of your life?

AliceWrites
02-25-2010, 01:51 AM
I know this is very hand wavey and I hope you don't mind me asking: do you think these preferences are because of the Asperger's, or would you likely have them without it? Are these preferences reflected in other areas of your life?

My daughter has Asperger's. At a very young age, she tended towards 'stories' about historical people: Queen Victoria being one of these, and she would read and re-read the book. Now, as a teenager, faced with a choice, she picks Manga books, but she is also at the high-functioning end of the spectrum.

I find your above question a little confusing. I think you're kind of asking how you separate the asperger's from the person. You don't! Asperger's is a way of thinking that is different. My daughter will tell me that she doesn't think other people are 'learning disabled' just because they think differently from her. In my opinion, you cannot separate a person's preferences from the way they think. She can read something once, and the information is stored and can be recalled at will. Needless to say, she is a whiz at mathematics and history, so I would say, yes, she tends towards a thinking style that is predominantly logical and structured, and has real issues and difficulties with abstract issues and imaginative ideas, that is, having empathy (imagining how others perceive the world) - not to be confused with an ability to be creative and having an imagination.

However, I don't think you'll find a definitive answer, as we are all individuals, and people diagnosed as being on the spectrum may share similar traits, but won't be exactly the same, either.

Someone gave me a novel to read, recently. It's a first person narration about a character who has a more classic-type autism diagnosis. 'The Speed of Dark' by Elizabeth Moon.

Hope this helps.

kuwisdelu
02-25-2010, 02:04 AM
Thank you, thank you for this - it fits so well, I'm practically writing you wholesale into my WIP. :) I know this is very hand wavey and I hope you don't mind me asking: do you think these preferences are because of the Asperger's, or would you likely have them without it? Are these preferences reflected in other areas of your life?

Of course I don't mind you asking, but like Sylvia said, I can't really say. It's part of who I am, and I can't really separate that out. I can just say it's one of the peculiarities in what I like to read that I know would make most other people roll their eyes probably.

Polenth
02-25-2010, 04:05 AM
I'm hoping for responses from anyone who falls somewhere on the autism spectrum. I was going by the terms used in Temple Grandin's talk, where she talks about pattern thinking and visual thinking (among others) as types of autistic thinking. I'm not sure what is meant by non-verbal; I don't think it's a term she used specifically.

I'm using my own terms, as I can't see the video. Though I think Temple is using her own terms too. Most of the population are visual thinkers according to the common meaning of the term.

What I'm guessing Temple means are people who think in pictures to the point of excluding language. To my knowledge, there's no evidence to suggest people at the extreme end of visual thinking are more likely to be autistic (or that autistic people have to be in this category of thinking).

Some of the questions you posed were specifically about visual thinking and not autism, which is why I asked. It sounds like you have an interest in both things, but the two are getting muddled.

Xelebes
02-25-2010, 04:50 AM
Aspie here.

MY first passion is music and what music I listen to heavily reflects what I am willing to read and write. But what I listen to is largely sparked by what I read. I started enjoying science fiction when I was around 13, reading Asimov's Foundation series and Crichton's Sphere. I like writing that triggers a musical cornucopia of beeps, bloops and metallic groans - which those two seemed to do. This also spawned my voracious desire to listen to techno (not trance or dnb, but the Juan Atkins/Ritchie Hawtin/Stay Up Forever techno.) That and techno is just awesome music to stim to when I get overwhelmed. This in turn changed what I was willing to read and write - making me desire the drier sci fi works where all the motions are slower. Neal Stephenson seemed to fit the bill with Cryptonomicon and then Baroque Cycle. Baroque Cycle opened up other things which interest me.

Edit: I also like to read works that make me run for a dictionary - if only because it makes me want to read the dictionary more and get better at word games.

kuwisdelu
02-25-2010, 05:30 AM
That and techno is just awesome music to stim to when I get overwhelmed.

Hahaha ;)

I'm not a big techno fan, but I can see this perfectly.


Neal Stephenson seemed to fit the bill with Cryptonomicon and then Baroque Cycle. Baroque Cycle opened up other things which interest me.

Edit: I also like to read works that make me run for a dictionary - if only because it makes me want to read the dictionary more and get better at word games.

I quite like Stephenson's contemporary stuff; lots of great awesome nerdiness. :D

Cranky
02-25-2010, 05:35 AM
Heh, my son digs techno and house music. Dances around to it like mad.

If he can read, we don't know it. But he has always loved to look at books. Especially the phone book, maybe because it's a solid wall of text. He knows the "right" way to read a book -- that is, from front to back -- but sometimes he likes to flip through it backwards, or stand on his head while he turns the pages. For him, looking at books seems to be a very visual experience. Total speculation on my part, but he's fascinated with letters and numbers, and loves looking at them. ETA: He's *very* good with patterns and matching sequences, etc. He seems to prefer children's books that have the text arranged in interesting ways.

kuwisdelu
02-25-2010, 05:50 AM
If he can read, we don't know it. But he has always loved to look at books. Especially the phone book, maybe because it's a solid wall of text. He knows the "right" way to read a book -- that is, from front to back -- but sometimes he likes to flip through it backwards, or stand on his head while he turns the pages. For him, looking at books seems to be a very visual experience. Total speculation on my part, but he's fascinated with letters and numbers, and loves looking at them. ETA: He's *very* good with patterns and matching sequences, etc. He seems to prefer children's books that have the text arranged in interesting ways.

I can relate to this. It's hard to explain, but I've noticed there's something to the shape of the text of most of the prose I like, almost like there's something pretty to the pattern of certain letters and their frequency and recurrence on a page and the lengths of words like short-short-long-short-long-long-short-long like Morse code or a kind of bar code. I don't really consciously pay attention to it, but strangely, I have noticed something like this before.

Oh, and one weird thing I do is sometimes I'll read out-of-order, too. Every once in a while, I'll jump ahead a paragraph or two, and then go back to the paragraph I skipped, and somehow this doesn't take me out of the story or confuse me. That's probably just me being weird in my own weird way, though.

Cranky
02-25-2010, 05:54 AM
I totally understand. To me, sentences take on the shape of their meaning, if that makes sense. Individual words do that, too. Simple stuff sometimes, like how "look" has a pair of eyes, "sharp" has two stabby points on it, etc....

Xelebes
02-25-2010, 05:54 AM
With the idea of wall of text, I've been known to produce sheets and sheets of paper full of numbers. Some of them are actual stories being told with only numbers. Other times it's just patterns and just seeing how many times certain arrangements of numbers occur.

benbradley
02-25-2010, 06:10 AM
I just watched the TED video and it's pretty much the same things I've heard her say in Fresh Air interviews.

I have little doubt that if I looked into it I would be diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. However, Asperger's is assumed or alleged to have genetic causes, and I have little doubt my "condition" is due to parents who were over-dominating, overprotective, and if they didn't actually think I was stupid, they sure treated me that way. For whatever reasons, throughout school I did a lot more reading and a lot less socializing than the average child.

I scored a 39 on this test, where a score of 32 or higher appears to be strongly correlated with the Autism spectrum ("Eighty percent of those diagnosed with autism or a related disorder scored 32 or higher."):
http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/9.12/aqtest.html

It's from this article in December 2001 Wired Magazine, "The Geek Syndrome:
http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/9.12/aspergers.html

There's much interesting reading about Asperger's/Autism. I've read these:

"Look Me In The Eye", by AW's own John Elder Robison
http://www.amazon.com/Look-Me-Eye-Life-Aspergers/dp/0307395987

"The Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome" by Tony Atwood
http://www.amazon.com/Complete-Guide-Aspergers-Syndrome/dp/1843104954 (I found this hard to read, some of the descriptions push buttons for me)

"Born on a Blue Day" by Daniel Tammett
http://www.amazon.com/Born-Blue-Day-Extraordinary-Autistic/dp/1416535071
ETA: "text arranged in interesting ways" reminds me Daniel has synesthesia, a trait apparently strongly correlated with the autism spectrum. I recall "The Stars My Destination" as a novel that has text going vertically and diagonally and such in an attempt to demonstrate synesthesia.

But as far as general reading (and I suppose much of the writing I've done), I like SF, especially hard SF, and I don't much like fantasy.

One novel I've lately tried to read that annoys me is Melissa Scott's "Dreamships" because it reads sort of like fantasy to me, though I suspect some people might think think of it as hard SF (because, hey, it's got spaceships and things).

Tors
02-25-2010, 06:25 AM
I have a non-verbal learning disability. The left side and the right side of my brain don't comunicate correctly. Verbally i'm competent but written words i struggle with. (i'm writing a book because i like a challenge and i refuse to be placed into a box). I can read in my head without a problem but trying to read out-loud is awful to me, when i had to read out-loud in class the teachers always skipped me because it is pure torture.
I also struggle to pick up on non-verbal cues of people. I struggle to understand sarcasm - in writing it is impossible for me to see it as scarcasm. I struggle to pick up on peoples, and my own, intination. I always misunderstand peoples meaning and dont recognisie the tone of my voice.
Personally i really struggle with maths, i think its due to the fact i hate repitition. I cant listen to music with a constant beat (dance/trance music is a nono), i hate ticking clocks and watches. the reptitious noise makes me physically angry. The irony is i have sometimes have a stammer.
When i'm tired or incredibly busy i write backwards without even noticing.
I haven't read a mystery/thriller yet where i have'nt figured out the killer before the end. I'm the same with TV too, my parents banned me from commenting growing up because i always knew who it was. (Possible exception is occasionally James Paterson)
I love SFF novels because of the complete immersion into another world. When i read i literally see characters acting in my head i can see the world around them. It really annoys me when the make films out of books, because they are never what i imagined.
I don't like to read horror because it is so visual for me. I have suffered with nightmares my whole life and really struggle if i've been reading horror.

benbradley
02-25-2010, 07:04 AM
Another article, quite relevant to the thread:
"Neurodiversity and Fandom"
http://www.tor.com/?id=52927&option=com_content&view=blog

BTW, while I understand and agree with their purpose and what people are trying to do by saying them, the words neurotypical and neurodiversity grate on me. I halfway expect the next thing to be sociotypical and sociodiversity.

Xelebes
02-25-2010, 07:31 AM
Another article, quite relevant to the thread:
"Neurodiversity and Fandom"
http://www.tor.com/?id=52927&option=com_content&view=blog

BTW, while I understand and agree with their purpose and what people are trying to do by saying them, the words neurotypical and neurodiversity grate on me. I halfway expect the next thing to be sociotypical and sociodiversity.

Posted in the 2nd reply. (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showpost.php?p=4674721&postcount=3) :)

SirOtter
02-25-2010, 07:45 AM
He doesn't like lots of description and if it's his turn to read and there's a lot of description he'll throw in a random dinosaur to wreak havoc upon the people.

I find that a noble and endearing quality, and shall endeavor to follow his example whenever possible.

The students with ASD in the voc rehab program I work for tend towards the Asperger's part of the spectrum, and do seem to prefer reading SF, if they read at all. The ones that don't are dedicated video gamers, mostly.

Sophia
02-25-2010, 12:45 PM
Thank you so much, everyone, for taking the time to reply. These are brilliant and helpful responses, and I really appreciate you sharing your personal experiences.

samripley
02-25-2010, 05:09 PM
I don't have anything to add and I'm not writing about anyone with an ASD, but I just wanted to tell you guys that this thread is super interesting. It's definitely made me want to learn more about this. :)

Lyra Jean
02-25-2010, 05:24 PM
I
Yes, that does help, thank you! Has your brother ever said what it is about lots of description that he doesn't like?


He just finds it boring even if it is important to the story. Also if you are reading and you read it in an exciting way it will keep his interest better. It's also probably because my brother isn't much of a reader either. So my mom and him take turns reading chapters.

So if there is a lot of description and you are reading it and I would probably read it like oh look over there character A there's even more grass. Oh look character B I found a rock over there and some water. It's really all in how you read it.

And he likes to act out the action scenes later. In "The Protector's War" there is a swordfight between the BearKillers and the Protector. The BearKillers are severely outnumbered and getting ready to make a last stand. Then these English guys come out of nowhere yelling A Loring! A Loring! and something else I can't remember right now.

So don't be surprised if my brother later on begins a mock attack and starts yelling A Loring! A Loring!

kuwisdelu
02-25-2010, 07:38 PM
He just finds it boring even if it is important to the story. Also if you are reading and you read it in an exciting way it will keep his interest better. It's also probably because my brother isn't much of a reader either. So my mom and him take turns reading chapters.

So if there is a lot of description and you are reading it and I would probably read it like oh look over there character A there's even more grass. Oh look character B I found a rock over there and some water. It's really all in how you read it.

Oh, definitely. The most interesting prose in the world read in an uninteresting manner is like... well, it's just boring.