Perceptive Observational Analysis: The Autistic Way of Navigating & Connecting Knowledge

4 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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19 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. 🤗

        1. Gordon, I feel like I have a few of the attributes of an ND, but not many others so I think I am n NT, or a ND diverging in a different direction. I am not sure if I am a full POA, but I do remember things by pattern
          Is and re-work out the details based on the patterns if I need them later. I also have come to know a great deal about a great many things, although I also know of a great many other areas where I don’t know much at all. I think this broad range of knowledge is partly why the creator of Myth Busters want to me to join the show. Unfortunately on video I come off like a dead fish and the Discovery channel suits felt they already had one Jamie and didn’t need another 🙂

          I wish it was possible for us to pull out and compare our thought processes and pattern recognition skills to see if I qualify as a POA. I know that I do not pattern analyze my visual field. I am as clueless as any NT how many tiles are in the floor when I walk into a room. And I can only ‘see’ up to four, beyond that I have try to visually break them up into smaller groups or count. Yet people keep asking me how I know so much about medical techniques, parts of human physiology, building construction, space flight and airplanes, computers building, debugging, programming and debugging the programs, bits of particle physics, quantum theory, information theory, number theory, and many other things, only a few of which I have studied in school. I can read a fair amount of body language and conversational subtext, but I also feel like there is book of human rules of interaction that everyone else got but not me. So in answer to your question of are there any POAs among the NTs, I am not sure if I am a POA, and I am not sure if I am an NT so I might be an example and I might not.

          I am a computer programmer professionally, and it is from that view point and my limited understanding of how NDs perceive the world that I my image, my theory of some of the differences. I think the NDs are wired to use ‘processing units’ to do a layer by layer analysis of what they see and data compress down to the level of interest. For instance a table in my peripheral view may be processed from a bunch of edges and colors and gradients in on layer to assembled edges and colors into an object in the next layer, then pattern recognition against a stored list of things previously seen to be labelled a table so that the next layer can determine it is not centered in the field of view nor mentally focused on the last time round and so get compressed into : table, wood, square, brown and only gets more detailed if my eyes flick over to look at it and what ever I was looking at is now simplified and data compressed. This then leaves lots of ‘mental bandwidth’ to use on key areas of interest like faces, facial expressions, body position and body language. For the NDs I see the wiring putting all this mental processing power in parallel with the full onslaught of the visual field hitting it all at once and pattern recognition of the whole being the only defence against too much information for the rest of the brain to handle. But patterns that cover the whole field of view leave to few ‘compression coefficients’ for things like faces and body movement, let alone fine detail like facial expressions and body language. And after a lifetime of not seeing the facial expressions to connect them with subsequent actions and work backwards to guessed internal emotions you don’t have the background experience to interpret them when you are up close enough to see them. And looking people straight in the eye is painful for me sometimes. For someone who grew up experiencing looking directly at someone speeding up the rate at which they realized that you think differently then they do and different is at best not desired and at worst a strong negative reaction, all the worse because you were so focused on them. So your experiences would reinforce the feeling that looking directly at someone else is not good. Perhaps if the visual processing develops huge, complex patterns, the rest of the brain has to become skilled at handling, processing, comparing, saving and remembering complex patterns. Thus the same mechanisms would be applied to everything else so that seeing patterns in science, programs, history, recent news reports would be almost automatic. Expanding that from local patterns to broader patterns of knowledge would be likely and lead to your POA.

          Well, there I have done it again, another text wall. I hope my ramblings are not to far off the beam. And I definitely hope they do not offend. I was trying to understand and articulate difference, not make prejudgements.

          Mike Bushroe

  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!

  5. I am a ge-poa but it burns me out. I see too many connections. My brain gets overstimulated, like a heated, multi-colored plasma cloud, and if it goes on too long, burnout. I need to learn to put the brakes on. I was in grad school for a little while; now I’m so burned out I can barely read. Thanks for the insight!

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