Perceptive Observational Analysis: The Autistic Way of Navigating & Connecting Knowledge4 min read

One thing I have learnt is that despite what many people think, there are no sub­jects or fields of knowl­edge that are com­pletely sep­a­rated from one another. They are all knitted together in a mas­sive inter­weaving web of con­nec­tions that those who have the capa­bility can nav­i­gate these net­work of con­nec­tions.

This capa­bility to nav­i­gate knowl­edge with effi­ciency is some­thing that I call POA (Perceptive Observational Analysis). All humans can con­nect infor­ma­tion together; it’s how we create and use the knowl­edge we learn.

POA, how­ever, is a dif­ferent type of pro­cessing alto­gether. It is not very common in neu­rotyp­i­cals, but those who have it become highly inven­tive thinkers, great intel­lec­tuals, artists, com­posers, or philoso­phers.

However, autistic minds are dif­ferent from non-autistic minds, and because of this, all autistic people at least a little touch of the POA capa­bility. This is why autistic people are often better at per­ceiving and picking up on things than most people over­look. It’s widely known that autis­tics are great at pat­tern recog­ni­tion, but there’s not a lot of explo­ration about what that means.

This is the gen­eral capacity of POA; how­ever, I’ve since assessed and defined two sub­types of POA, Focused (F‑POA) and General Eclectic POA (GE-POA). Of the many won­derful things that the autistic mind can do, these capa­bil­i­ties are pos­sibly the slowest to develop because there is much you have to learn before they become active.

After all, they have to learn knowl­edge and infor­ma­tion before they have knowl­edge and infor­ma­tion to con­nect. But as they build that knowl­edge base, everyone pre­pared to be stunned by what they can figure out.

I am not a pro­fes­sional behav­ioral sci­en­tist, and POA is just a the­o­ret­ical frame­work based on my own expe­ri­ence and under­standing. I am writing about it to see if anyone else can relate.

Focused POA (F‑POA)

F‑POA is the more common of the sub-types of POA. Those autistic people who have it will usu­ally spe­cialise in only a few fields of knowl­edge. Within those fields, they will very quickly come to master them because they can make incred­ibly fast and dif­fi­cult con­nec­tions within their fields of knowl­edge with ease that most ordi­nary people would struggle with.

To help you under­stand how incred­ible this is, a couple of his­tor­ical Focused POA mas­ters are Mozart and Albert Einstein. Mozart’s spe­ciality was sound dynamics in con­necting tone, har­monics, res­o­nance, and cal­cu­lating the con­nec­tions nec­es­sary to create some of the most won­derful musical com­po­si­tions in his­tory.

As for Albert Einstein, his knowl­edge in quantum physics and quantum mechanics let him to develop some of the most advanced the­o­ries in sci­ence. He also came up with one of my favourite quotes: “Only two things are infi­nite, the uni­verse and human stu­pidity, only I’m not cer­tain about the uni­verse.” And, isn’t it nice that politi­cians all over the world make such a deter­mined effort to prove Einstein cor­rect?

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General Eclectic POA (GE-POA)

GE-POA is the less common of the two, and takes the longest to develop because it takes a long time to amass the large amount of gen­er­alised knowl­edge and infor­ma­tion– depending on each per­son’s own learning speed.  This is my pro­cessing style.

Those autistic people who have GE-POA will become mas­ters of nav­i­gating the con­nec­tions between all the gen­er­alised knowl­edge fields, but unlike focused POA, it doesn’t happen fast because it takes time and patience to nav­i­gate and intake the vast amount of infor­ma­tion that we gather in our lives.

But once we have made the con­nec­tions we figure out all sorts of won­derful & amazing ideas, con­cepts, and epipha­nies about all sorts of sub­jects in the world– things that most ordi­nary people wouldn’t be able to see for them­selves.

I’ve always liked to believed that if all the people of the world could see the inter­con­nect­ed­ness of every­thing in the world the way we with GE-POA do, then the world could be a much better and nicer place.

The Potential Price of GE-POA

There’s an old saying that, “More often than not, power has a price,” and this can be true about GE-POA. It’s some­thing that I realised a little while ago.

You see, dif­ferent parts of the brain help people nav­i­gate the world around them. But those of us who have GE-POA can, over time, lose the capa­bility to do so, because those parts of the brain are grad­u­ally com­man­deered by our POA. The amount of infor­ma­tion in the world one intakes begins to becomes too over­whelming to process all at once.

See, you can nav­i­gate in the real world or you can nav­i­gate the net­work of knowl­edge, but may not be able to do both. If it hap­pens, it won’t happen fast. It takes time, the more active the GE-POA capa­bility becomes the less and less you are able to find your way around.

I think it depends on when the GE-POA becomes active or hits a cer­tain threshold, the older you get, the more knowl­edge you amass; the more knowl­edge you amass, the more com­pli­cated it becomes to nav­i­gate through it.

But then again, it might be that it depends on the indi­vidual if it affects them this way; after all, all I have to go by is my own per­sonal expe­ri­ences with what has hap­pened to me.

When I was young, I had no problem finding my way around, but when I got to my mid-30’s, I slowly started get­ting lost and con­fused, espe­cially in new or unfa­miliar places. Nowadays, my nav­i­gating skills are some­where between zero & none.

This can be the price of GE-POA. For me per­son­ally, I don’t mind because of the amazing way it allows my mind to work. Besides losing my nav­i­gating skills in the real world is some­thing I can accom­mo­date for myself.

I’ve got the maps and nav­i­ga­tion app on my smart­phone for that, which is just another won­derful inven­tion in the world that brings greater inde­pen­dence and freedom for all autistic people.

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17 Comments

  1. I enjoyed your article! I work in IT and I write code for the soft­ware at a man­u­fac­turing com­pany. I’ve been there 25 years now. My boss used to get annoyed with me always asking so many ques­tions about how other people’s jobs con­tributed to the whole. I could not do my job until I com­pletely under­stood how each dif­ferent facet of our depart­ment inter­twined to create the whole. Years later he came to appre­ciate this about me and started to men­tion it in my reviews. I became very valu­able to him once he real­ized how having that knowl­edge made me a great asset to have.

    In writing code, I love debug­ging and finding pat­terns and watching all of the code come to life to create the fin­ished cal­cu­la­tions, dis­plays, and fig­ures.

    I also watch politi­cians and listen to voters speak. It’s incred­ibly frus­trating to see so many rely on opin­ions and feel­ings rather than facts. I feel like I’m watching masses of people be duped and I can’t do a thing about it.

    My mind is always thinking and pro­cessing. Since having kids I’m a real home­body. I find myself immersed in research and going down rabbit holes. I reg­u­larly walk into rooms without knowing why I’m there, walk into walls, forget things…and the sense of direc­tion is a sense I never had. I rarely hyper focus on one thing. I’m a con­stant gath­erer of knowl­edge. I wish I had the focus to hone in on one thing. Maybe I wouldn’t be so absent minded.

    My boss once called me a “jack of all trades, master of none”. I was ini­tially offended by this. After mulling it over for years, I realize that is a fairly accu­rate assess­ment.

    1. Author

      I see just like me you under­stand some of the dif­fi­cul­ties that comes with GE-POA. I’m the same way, I never under­stand where my mind is going until it get there. Sometimes it will link from one field of knowl­edge to a totally dif­ferent one yet the infor­ma­tion in both fields do truly con­nect together. Sometimes I find myself thinking about some­thing that I wonder what started me thinking this, then I have to back track to what I was orig­i­nally thinking about that led me to where my mind ended up. lol😄

      1. Now that I’m in my early 50’s I def­i­nitely rec­og­nize that rabbit hole! I remember having fab­u­lous focus as a kid/young adult as well. Now that I have a lot more infor­ma­tion under my belt, I do see more and more pat­terns all the time. I think it makes life much more inter­esting.

    2. ‘Jack of all trades; master of none’: that’s exactly what imme­di­ately glided into my mind, OneLoneDandelion. It’s what my mother warned me about, when I was 13. And I couldn’t under­stand why what I saw as a pos­i­tive was viewed by her as the com­plete oppo­site.

      I used to say I knew a little about an awful lot — but these last few years I’ve come to realise that I actu­ally know an awful lot about an awful lot. Only recently a friend I hadn’t seen in a couple years com­mented, laughing, about how she loved the way my mind jumped about all over the place, yet how the links I made were all com­pletely log­ical. (Another — mutual — friend, a psy­chi­a­trist it so hap­pens, actu­ally found she couldn’t keep up with all the rapid links and new lines of enquiry I would make while in con­ver­sa­tion with her…)

      Guess I should men­tion, espe­cially to you, Gordon Hunter, that I am dx’d with adult ADHD (2015) and dys­praxia (2011), rather than autism, although I’ll even­tu­ally get round to seeking a Dx of the latter in due course (my 20-year-old daughter finally got an ASC diag­nosis in September). I have the classic ND spiky pro­file — indi­vidual WAIS sub­sets sug­gesting IQ scores between 180 and 55 — which I think may be a factor in how/why our brains are able to make such fan­tastic leaps between what others would con­sider unre­lated mat­ters.

      1. Author

        Interesting, I started to figure this out myself. See the more I learn, the more con­nec­tions my GE-POA let’s me figure things out. I’ve started to realise that other ND con­di­tions could have good chance of devel­oping the neu­ro­log­ical struc­ture needed to make the POA capa­bility exist in the brain. Like I wrote in my article, it’s very rare that POA is found in NT’s and the ones gifted with it have great minds.
        In autis­tic’s POA is a nat­ural struc­ture that exists in our brains and some times it can develop fur­ther into F‑POA or GE-POA. However I have never seen any example of F‑POA or GE-POA showing up in NT’S, I think that only people who have ND minds have the diverse neu­ro­log­ical struc­ture needed to increase the chance of POA existing in their minds.
        So where POA is rare in NT’S, it would be more common for those who have other ND con­di­tions to have and because of their increased neu­ro­log­ical diver­sity on very rare occa­sions it can develop fur­ther into F‑POA or GE-POA. 🤗

  2. Jungian Function Typing and the work of Dario Nardi in FMRI (if my memory serves) maybe of interest to you. Not myers briggs but Jungian Function.

    1. Nardi who did Neuroscience of Personality, Steve?

      Jungian cog­ni­tive func­tion — big dif­fer­ence between Myers-Briggs and the actual thing.

      It is the dif­fer­ence between a rivulet and the sea

      1. yep that Nardi. Your article has some good ideas, one of the things I have always strug­gled with was my ability to see com­plexity and have other people not be able to do so. Always put it down to my IQ until my diag­nosis at 53.

    2. Author

      Steve when I first did a post about POA on my autistic Facebook group some one com­mented that they didn’t realise that NT’s don’t think and prossess infor­ma­tion the way we do. When they finally did realise it they were con­fused and won­dered how NT’s man­aged to get by in life without being able to think the way we do🤗

      1. lol, you have just explained my life’s inter­ac­tions with most people. The genetic aspects are inter­esting, my brother is very much an NT in thinking style.

    3. Author

      realise

      1. Author

        Not sure what hap­pened there. I must have made a mis­take with some­thing 🤔


  3. Fascinating article! It explains so much. I always noticed, as I real­ized that I just processed things dif­fer­ently, that was also able to rec­og­nize con­nec­tions and pat­terns that others seemed obliv­ious to, time and time again. I reckon I would match your descrip­tion of GE-POA best.

    1. Just so you and others know how to pro­nounce it ver­bally if they are verbal autis­tic’s:
      P.O.A is pro­nounced “POA ” like the snake “BOA” only begin­ning with a P.
      F‑POA is as it’s written ” F” then “POA”
      GE-POA is pro­nounced “Gee” then “POA”

  4. Gordon,
    An excel­lent article! Fit’s me to a T – and most specif­i­cally I can con­nect with your com­ment that GE-POA takes longer to develop because one needs loads of knowl­edge before one can process it for pat­terns. Like many others, I sus­pect, I’m very cau­tious about accepting the ‘Aspie’ des­ig­na­tion – I only learned that I was ‘in the Club’ when I was around 80, so I had around 65 years expe­ri­ence as a pro­fes­sional sci­en­tist before I was told why may career was so extra­or­di­nary. (Yes, and still is – one doesn’t just loose it when one matures!)

    I work as one of the dreaded ‘Environmental Activists’ – in other words, a free­lance eco­log­ical con­sul­tant. I see pat­terns of ecology – but across a vast range of dimen­sions and fields of exper­tise, including a host of eco­log­ical time scales, and the effects of human engi­neering, on geology, soci­ology, biology, etc. I describe the pat­terns in ways that are often incon­ve­nient for my Clients, often with unfor­tu­nate results. But I refuse to tell people that my pat­terns are wrong – as one top-level expert wrote to his col­leagues, “They are lucky to have Doug on their team, he is a fine ecol­o­gist. He sees prob­lems that no one else even knows exist – but then he finds solu­tions!” That’s the true beauty and value of pat­tern recog­ni­tion – it shows not only what is, but also what is pos­sible.

    For me, pat­terns are every­where, as also are those who are unable to recog­nise them. Sadly, many of those folk are also politi­cians! I try to leave no ‘foot­prints’ on my travels, and have learned to never unpack my min­i­malist trav­el­ling bag when I’m on assign­ment! But by making small adjust­ments here and there, care­fully selected from the overall pat­tern, I can make huge cumu­la­tive dif­fer­ences – that famous ‘but­terfly of chaos’ effect, and I’ve been very suc­cessful in that way.

    So my mes­sage to fellow trav­ellers is that being dif­ferent is not a dis­ability – at least not for us. It is, as young Greta Thunberg recently told the world, a ‘super-power’, allowing us to live our lives to the full extent pos­sible. I have never had to worry about being dif­ferent – after all, it’s all those other folk who are hand­i­capped! If only we could get this mes­sage across to young people starting out on their careers – it is absolutely true that without us, humanity would still be living pre­car­i­ously in caves!

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