Aspergers and “Black and White” thinking.

This topic was suggested to me by a friend of mine who also has Aspergers. I have touched on the tendency of people on the autistic spectrum to think in terms of absolutes-what other people call “black and white thinking”, but this is the first time I have dedicated a whole blog post to it.

Personally, I have always thought in absolute terms and this has an impact on my whole life. Things are either right or wrong-there is no middle area for me. There is a very fixed and rigid way in which I think. I am frequently accused of being pedantic, particularly in terms of language. I sometimes find myself unable to resist correcting someone in their speech if I know that they have not said something in the correct way. I have cut down on this particular habit a lot because I know that it annoys people and I don’t wish to intentionally annoy anyone but sometimes it just slips out. It also affects my morals (in a good way, I hasten to add!) I have very absolute ideas of correct versus incorrect behaviour and I still struggle to comprehend why other people behave in ways which can be so cruel and, in my view, morally incorrect.

This type of extreme thinking also affects my emotions. I am always liable to assume the worst in any given situation because, in my mind, if something is not the best outcome it can be, it is automatically the worst outcome. My mind doesn’t seem to recognise the so called “middle ground”. As a result, my life is an emotional roller coaster a lot of the time because, if something isn’t the best outcome it can be, I am dealing with my own emotional fall out about it for a long time afterwards. I believe this is also why a lot of people with Aspergers identify as perfectionists-that personality type seems to lend itself to “black and white” thinking. Of course, it is also a personality type that I believe lends itself to depression a lot of the time too and a lot of people with Aspergers also experience intense depressive episodes, whether they have diagnosed depression or not. The connection between “black and white” thinking and certain mental health conditions is an interesting one and I would like to see more research into it.

Of course the majority of the world does not think or work in absolutes. There is lots and lots of “middle ground”-something that is not allowed in one situation is then allowed in an ever so subtly different situation. This really confuses us and means we have to learn ever more complex social rules which can then change on a whim. To me, if something is illegal, it is illegal. I have never been on illegal music or video sharing websites, something which I think puts me in the minority of people my age. I have a love for rules and would never knowingly break these, which is probably one of the biggest reasons why I was considered a “teacher’s pet” during my school years.

I know that this type of rigid thinking can make us come across as very irritating-I have heard people with Aspergers referred to as “precocious” and “insufferable” due to the way that we think. I would ask anyone who is reading this who doesn’t think in the way that we do to imagine just how exhausting life is for us when we view everything in such extreme ways and struggle to see the “middle ground”. Please try and support us through the emotional roller coaster that this type of thinking can cause and please try and appreciate that this type of thinking does have it’s advantages too-we are often incredibly loyal and honest because of the way in which we view things.


8 Responses to Aspergers and “Black and White” thinking.

  1. khendradm says:

    The black-and-white thinking is most likely an extension of the greater connectivity in several regions of the left hemisphere for those with Asperger Syndrome (revealed by a study done a year ago that I cited recently on my blog). The left hemisphere is the black-and-white hemisphere, yes or no, good or bad. It doesn’t deal well with ambiguity. On the one hand, this can be a problem when there is a more complex issue where the result isn’t necessarily clear, and the left side tries to force a response in accordance with previously held knowledge that may not take any newer information into rightful consideration. But on the other hand, you are correct that it’s more loyal. If you’re open-ended, gray, and willing to change, you aren’t as likely to be loyal or committed to one particular thing. Loyalty is black-and-white thinking, resistance to change, staying with one thing – the very opposite of open-ended, gray thought, and change.

  2. for those of us that think in terms of grey, what to do?
    so much can be a simple communication fail…
    am i seeking to decode statements from Aspie friends where there is no code?
    am I looking for a subtext that is so common in “NT” social interaction & simply taking things the wrong way?
    is my grey thought process causing confusion in the black & white worldview?
    i think on these questions & find myself utterly confused…
    and feeling as though i am reaching an impasse, conflicts & misunderstandings where resolution becomes so difficult to achieve…

  3. outoutout says:

    Hi there. Just stumbled upon your blog. I come from a whole family of Autists – myself, my dad, my two kids, and probably loads of our ancestors.

    Re: the “black and white thinking”, I can relate to a lot of what you say, but for me it seems a bit more nuanced (ironically). There are some aspects of life where I feel very strongly either/or, and some where I see nothing but shades of grey. There will be times where my initial reaction will be “black”, and then, over time, I’ll understand “white” and relate to how others can feel that way. I may be resistant to change overall, but not incapable of change; in fact, quite capable of coming around to change, in my own time. It’s all very weird and perhaps a sign of my unique humanity! 🙂


  4. G E Darling says:

    Enjoy reading your blogs learning about you is helping me understand my son more so thank you!

  5. Oliver Simpson says:

    This is another of one of those stereotypes of Autism that I feel is misleading, it isn’t so much a rigid sense of morality that can make an autistic seem black and white in their views, but how other people see things and how some issues are portrayed in say an autistic person favourite show, book etc.

    There are a lot of people in life who are more black and white in their view than most autistic people are in my view. Overall like a few things when it comes to autism in my own view (which I will admit is stubborn and can come off as opinionated, like many autistic people I have strong views and won’t bend them to please anyone), many issues and views that an autistic person has comes down more to how they perceive how other people think and feel.

    Plus I personally feel that some of the rigid thinking and feelings an autistic person can have are due to how much other people and the world can annoy and frustrate someone with autism when they do something that makes no sense at all in any way to an autistic’s view of the world and beliiefs.

  6. Pingback: When Acknowledgment Backfires | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  7. EccoLa says:

    This rigid black & white thinking despite enormously high intelligence is one of the things that tipped me off to think my boss has Aspergers.

    Working with a boss who can impose their B&W worldview on me by giving orders, shutting down more nuanced work solutions, can be enormously frustrating. I cannot find any resources on working for an Aspergers boss. I am just endlessly under-appreciated and frustrated because elegance & sophistication of analysis, problem-solving, etc. is not only not recognized, it is condemned!

    Unfortunately, we don’t work in a profession such as computer coding where such a strong binary brain might be an advantage.

    I’m rarely able to even make a case to try to argue for my suggestions or the validity of my approach or point of view because a) any such attempt is very irritating to the boss, and b) in that very B&W way, the boss simply orders me to stop and will brook no response. There is simply no middle ground — even in the discussion.

    Additionally, it feels professionally demeaning & infantilizing (although I don’t believe it is meant to) to be treated & spoken to like this. The real world is NOT B&W, and the impact of my work is suboptimal when I am forced to act as though it were.

    Does anyone have experience or pointers on how to be productive (and not be continually frustrated) in such a professional relationship?

    • Jill Nagle says:

      Nonviolent Communication-based mediation could get through to the feelings and needs underneath the B&W strategies. I’m guessing your boss wouldn’t be open to it. But NVC-based communications coaching could help *you* identify what is true for you, and also explore ways to connect with your boss in a way that they would be more receptive to.

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