Linear processing

Sally & Anne

In Baron Cohen et al. 1985 experiment ‘Sally-Anne’ it is suggested that many children with autism do not understand that because Sally doesn’t know her marble has been moved,  she will look for her marble where she originally left it.  The children know that the marble has been moved, so they think Sally also has this information and will look for it in the new location.  ‘The experiment seemed to reveal an impairment which was specific and unique to the condition of autism, an impairment in the ability to understand that people have mental states which can be different from the world of reality and that can be different from one’s own.’ (Autism in the Early Years, Val Cumine, Julia Leach & Gill Stevenson 2000)

I would propose that this reasoning may not be entirely accurate.  My own experience and those of other high functioning individuals I know suggests that what is ‘impaired’ is not the understanding of different mental states and ‘realities’, but the ability to think of these simultaneously.  I believe that it is the brain’s difficulty in performing multiple tasks simultaneously  which lies at the core of many ‘autistic difficulties’, including social imagination, but I would argue against social imagination being the primary core in itself.  It is also this ‘linear’ thought process, engendering great detail and depth of thought, which allows for ground breaking discoveries.

If one’s thinking can be likened to spaghetti, then one could either have thoughts similar to a bowl of cooked spaghetti, or a bowl of uncooked spaghetti.  In order to follow through a thought process it is easiest to have uncooked spaghetti, a thought can be followed from beginning to end, clearly and without interruption.  A neurotypical brain seems to have the ability to order thoughts alongside one another as uncooked spaghetti.  Not only that, it is also able to simultaneously switch attention between bits of spaghetti, pausing along each piece so as not to lose the way to the end.  However, in order to work as effectively as possible, an autistic brain needs to start at the beginning of one piece of thought spaghetti and continue, uninterrupted, right to the end.  If this process is interrupted, the person will need to start from the beginning again and anxiety builds.  If the person is expected to follow a number, if not numerous, pieces of spaghetti simultaneously, as a neurotypical would do automatically, the brain becomes a bowl of cooked spaghetti thoughts and it is very difficult to follow a single thought through from beginning to end.

In the morning my brain is uncooked spaghetti, by 4pm daily it is cooked …


3 thoughts on “Linear processing

  1. So what you’re saying is that NT’s brains are fried (cooked)? I can agree with that:)
    But seriously, there are some advantages to the focused mind (Asperger’s in my case) as well. Yesterday my wife was trying to create a project plan for a customer and getting quite frustrated because she could not work it all out. I made a simple suggestion of “let’s deal with the customer’s requirements in this column, the functional solution in this column and with the technical solution in the next column” and immediately everything made sense (even for my NT wife as well) and we finished the planning a few minutes later.


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