I still have problems understanding that most people don’t think in the same way as me. Small things bring this home to me sometimes. Things I don’t mention because they are so obvious to me; so much a part of how I think that I can’t understand how anyone could think differently.
One of these things is categorising and compartmentalising things as I go along.
My head is full of individual files, categorised by my own personal equivalent of the Dewey Decimal system and organised by correlation to categories that make perfect sense to me (but probably wouldn’t to anyone else!). I pick at thoughts, turning them over and over in my head until I can find where they fit, or what a genuinely new classification should be. This can take a while, but I can’t be content until I’ve placed the thought / experience where it belongs.
This is possibly part of why I always enjoyed helping out with the school library when I was younger: there is something immensely satisfying in knowing that there is a system and everything is exactly where it is supposed to be.
I’m also really good at compartmentalising things. I sometimes wonder if this is to do with having to wear so many different masks before my diagnosis; I became very used to adopting different personas for different situations. That’s (mainly) gone now, but the ability to compartmentalise remains. So, for instance, I can have a blazing row with someone over something and then five minutes later be able to engage with them on a different subject as though the argument never happened. (My father is exactly the same, funnily enough – and I suspect he shares my condition.)
This sometimes leads to problems with interpersonal relationships, though. I can’t understand why some people sulk; why they let the wounds fester and are slow to forgive. That mindset is totally alien to me. It scares me as it seems to require an emotional response that is not within my power to give, and any response that I do give only tends to make things worse. But then, people who have that type of reaction probably don’t understand how I can be – completely and genuinely – OK with someone who moments before I’ve been in a shouting match with. They can’t understand that the argument may not be personal; that even if it was personal the topic has now changed to something where we aren’t in disagreement; that ‘normal service’ has now been resumed.
This difference in thinking styles does not seem to be commonly addressed in information about autism. I don’t know why. Perhaps people with autism tend to gravitate to environments that support our natural thinking states; where we can find common ground with others that are either autistic or have complementary ways of thinking. Perhaps I am an outlier with what I’ve chosen to do and in the amount and types of interaction that my choices have meant.
I’m not hiding my inner librarian any more. Instead, I want to be open about how I think and about what this means. Because the more I can explain, the easier it will hopefully be for people to accept that this is the way I am, even if they can’t understand.
I hope that people can accept me, anyway. After all, I accept them – even though I don’t understand how they think. And I firmly believe that there is no right or wrong way in how people think about things – as long as they do…