Autism and the Sensory System: Part 6 of 8

Autism and the Sensory System
Part Six: Categorization of Information

Even into my adult life I had to consciously categorize similar bits of information into general categories. My brain did not automatically categorize anything. No new information automatically fit itself into anything previously stored.

I became intensely aware of this back when I authored the 2010 Hidden Curriculum calendar (Endow, 2009a). Near the end of the process and after all the items for each day had been written I was then supposed to categorize these items. This posed a problem because at that time my brain had not stored the individual hidden curriculum items according to categories. I tried to figure out how to categorize the year’s worth of individual items. I started reading books on my shelf written by autistics (Grandin, 1995; Paradiz, 2002; Purkis, 2006; Williams, 1996; and Willey, 1999) specifically looking for information on categorization. It is interesting to me that even though I had read these books, I had not retained any categorization information.

I came across Temple Grandin’s explanation of her system of categorization of social sins (Grandin, 1995, 2006 and Grandin & Barron, 2005) and once I had this structure I was able to go on and construct my own. I actually wrote my categorization system down on a piece of paper and for some time needed to look at it in order to place the hidden curriculum items pertaining to social sins into the proper categories I, myself had created. Having this visual outside of me to look at was essential in that over time it allowed my neurology to grab onto this structured storage system. Once the picture of these categories was in my head I could more easily sort and categorize the items.

From this I was able to go on to write the index for the 2010 calendar. I looked at the index of the older calendars (Myles, 2006; Myles & Duncan, 2007; and Myles & Duncan 2008) and initially used that written structure to place items. Because the 2010 calendar was the first one specific to older adolescents and adults I had many items left over that did not fit into the index structure gleaned from an earlier calendar targeted towards elementary students. As I had done with developing my own structure for social sins, I wrote the categories from the older calendar on a piece of paper and then added to the topics. I think it took me longer to write the index than it did to write the individual hidden curriculum items for the 2010 calendar!

My brain was being deliberately instructed (by me) on a totally new storage system as I applied the above strategies to the task of writing the index for this 2010 calendar. Once this calendar was completed and sent off to the printer, I very soon began writing the next 2011 calendar (Endow, 2010). This time I already had the list of topics from the last calendar and as I wrote the hidden curriculum daily entry items I typed the dates right into the topic index. Initially I needed to look at and ponder over the entire index written out on paper for each hidden curriculum entry. It took considerable time as I figured out where to put each item. Over time I no longer needed to look at the topic index to know where to put new items.

My brain had been deliberately and intentionally taught this new storage system. This meant I could start automatically retrieving the system. Once retrieved, the new calendar item needing to be inserted could be slid right into the proper category! I watched the process in my visually thinking brain as the words slid under the topic category. I was glad the whole system was working more quickly and without as much intentionality on my part as time went on.

One day I noticed my retrieval of this stored information was changing. After initially developing the new (to my brain) storage system I was able to slide new items into the system, but retrieving them from this system meant my brain automatically scanned the system using the alphabetically arranged topics until the individual item was found. This meant if the item was under the topic of cyberspace I would retrieve it more quickly than if it was under the topic of workplace. To me this seemed inefficient, but I didn’t have any ideas on how to speed up the new way my brain was now working.

– from Autistically Thriving: Reading Comprehension, Conversational Engagement, and Living a Self-Determined Life Based on Autistic Neurology.

Note: Approximately once a week a new blog in this series will be released.

Autism and the Sensory System

Part One: Introduction
Part Two: Taking In Sensory Information
Part Three: Processing Sensory Information
Part Four: Processing Delays
Part Five: Storing and Retrieving Information
Part Six: Categorization of Information
Part Seven: Critical Mass Development
Part Eight: The Role of Interoception, The Eighth Sensory System
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REFERENCES

Endow, J. (2019). Autistically Thriving: Reading Comprehension, Conversational Engagement, and Living a Self-Determined Life Based on Autistic Neurology. Lancaster, PA: Judy Endow.

Endow, J. (2012). Learning the Hidden Curriculum: The Odyssey of One Autistic Adult.Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2006). Making Lemonade: Hints for Autism’s Helpers. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2013). Painted Words: Aspects of Autism Translated. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2009). Paper Words: Discovering and Living With My Autism.Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2009). The Power of Words: How we think about people with autism spectrum disorders matters! Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2009). Outsmarting Explosive Behavior: A Visual System of Support and Intervention for Individuals With Autism Spectrum Disorders.Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2010). Practical Solutions for Stabilizing Students With Classic Autism to Be Ready to Learn: Getting to Go.Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2009). 2010 Hidden curriculum one-a-day calendar for older adolescents and adults: Items for understanding unstated rules in social situations. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2010). 2011 Hidden curriculum one-a-day calendar for older adolescents and adults: Items for understanding unstated rules in social situations. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Grandin, T. (1995, 2006). Thinking in Pictures: My life with autism. New York, NY: Vintage Books, a Division of Random House, Inc.

Grandin, T., & Barron, S. (2005). The Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships.Arlington, TX: Future Horizons.

Myles, B. S. (2006). 2007 Hidden curriculum one-a-day calendar: Items for understanding unstated rules in social situations. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Myles, B. S. & Duncan, M. (2007). 2008 Hidden curriculum one-a-day calendar: Items for understanding unstated rules in social situations. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Myles, B. S. & Duncan, M. (2008). 2009 Hidden curriculum one-a-day calendar: Items for understanding unstated rules in social situations. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Myles, B. S., Endow, J., & Mayfield, M. (2013). The Hidden Curriculum of Getting and Keeping a Job: Navigating the Social Landscape of Employment.Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Paradiz, V. (2002). Elijah’s Cup: A family’s journey into the community and culture of high-functioning autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. New York, NY: The Free Press.

Purkis, J. (2006). Finding a Different Kind of Normal. Philadelphia, PA: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Williams, D. (1996a). Autism – An Inside Out Approach. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, Ltd.

Williams, D. (1996b). Like Color to the Blind. New York, NY: Times Books, a division of Random House.

Williams, D. (1998). Autism and Sensing. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, Ltd.

Willey, L. H. (1999). Pretending to Be Normal: Living with Asperger’s Syndrome. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, Ltd.