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  • Writer's pictureElisa Ferriggi

Information Processing: two different types of intelligence

When I explain autism to parents and professionals I often talk about autism being an information processing difference; a different way of processing information.

We know that we all process things slightly differently.

For example when we look at a picture (such as the one above), a non autistic person might be thinking a variety of numerous things on different levels, and if you were able to see what is going on in their brain, he or she will be accessing lots of different parts of their brain and making lots of different connections, very dynamic, sparking lots of different ideas and memories and ideas in their minds.

Examples might be:

That’s a nice playground

That reminds me I’m doing playground duty today

I must take my children out after school

I wonder where this is

Where are the adults?

They look like they are having fun

I need to sort a play date

When an autistic person looks at the same picture, they might only focus on one or two things typically. They may have difficulty seeing the bigger picture and have difficulties with the neural connections and accessing the many different pathways in the brain.

We have to remember that autism can be seen and understood and used as an ‘information processing difference’, when we understand this, it can immediately help us to change the way we are guiding and the child's learning experience.

When a person is able to process information from their environment that they experience, they are able to develop multiple perspectives, able to develop dynamic intelligence, flexibility, experience sharing, creativity and mindfulness.

The opposite of this is a brain without neural integration, this tends to result in autism, having a one-track mind, having only static intelligence, and lacking dynamic intelligence.

Stephen Wilkshire is a man with autism, with an amazing savant ability to draw. (You can view his work here ). He could be up in a plane and he would see cities and use his photographic memory of that city from a plane or helicopter, he would then draw that city he had just seen exactly, with every single detail in it.

That is an amazing ability, however what it highlights is that he has a one-track mind and he can hyper-focus on that.

If a non-autistic person were to go in a helicopter, there would be lots of feelings and experiences, for example:

I have never been on a helicopter before

I wonder how high it goes

It’s loud

I want to visit that place

I feel sick

This is amazing

I’ve never seen it from up here

I wish I was sharing this with my friend

I’ve been so lucky

This is special

How will I remember to draw all of those things

All of these different thoughts are going on simultaneously or at least in quick succession. That type of multiple neural connection will not be going on typically in an autistic person’s mind like, Stephen Wilkshire as he is only focused on what he sees and then replicates that, this is using static intelligence.

Compare the same savant artistic ability to Alexandra Nicheta (her work can be viewed here ) also an artist, this time without autism, demonstrating more dynamic intelligence and you can see the difference in how they process and interpret information.

Neither of the artist’s styles is more correct than the other, this is just an interesting distinction between the two styles of thinking (dynamic and static intelligence). However it is important that people learn to develop their dynamic intelligence so that they are able to make multiple connections that are required in everyday situations such as thinking, planning, flexibility and engaging in interactions.

You can join one of my free Online Information Sessions to learn more about how Think Autism can support you to build the guiding relationship and develop your child’s dynamic intelligence. All events listed on the homepage.

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