Autism and Thinking in Layers

As a little girl, there was a single movie screen in my mind where I created one still life picture at a time. There was only room for one picture at a time. Pictures were created by the words people said. It was never a problem to add something more to the current picture.

For example, if plans were made to go to the park I would see myself swinging on a swing. Then, if it started to rain, I would add raindrops to the picture. Raindrops would not change anything at all about swinging on a swing at the park. I couldn’t understand why anyone would say that we could not go to the park because it was raining. It certainly didn’t look that way to me!

I had no idea that others were experiencing the world in a different way.

When I was a teenager I was institutionalized. One day, some girls in the dayroom were busy writing a story. As they talked, their words went up on my screen producing a picture. Then, all of a sudden, the girls changed part of their story. One girl tipped her pencil upside down, erased a few lines, and wrote in a new version.

Normally, this would mean I’d have to destroy the picture on the screen in my head if I wanted to continue to listen to the conversation. I had not yet developed a way to erase my pictures. But that day all of a sudden I realized if my pictures were created in layers, rather than on one page, I would be able to keep up when the story changed. I could trade in an old layer for a new one! It would be my way of erasing and changing something. And, the changing picture would still fit on that one screen I could see in my mind.

I am many years older now and continue to work with these ideas. Over the years I’ve trained myself to create pictures in layers. Learning this skill became my foundation for beginning to live successfully in the world of words. Once I was a teenager who lived in a mental institution. Today, I function quite well in the world both in my personal life and in my professional life having accomplished many things.

Over the past decades, many students I’ve worked with in public schools and clients I’ve worked with in therapy settings have experienced benefit when their autistic way of thinking is understood.

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

This book also has an appendix that contains templates to trace to make your own thinking in layers visual system. I hope you find it helpful. Click HERE to order book.



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).  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.

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.