Autism is an alternative way of thinking

“I usually say to the child, ‘Congratulations, you have Asperger’s syndrome, and explain that this means he or she is not mad, bad or defective, but has a different way of thinking.” Tony Attwood, The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome

Autism (Asperger) is a different way of thinking?

Where once autism was thought to be abnormal (not ruling out that it might still be seen as abnormal by some), what I’m increasingly hearing nowadays is that autism is a different way of thinking. I don’t disagree with that (sorry for the double negative) but I still have a problem with the word ‘different’.

First, ‘different’ according to who? The neurotypicals (NT) see people with autism as strange and different but that is only one side of the coin. Fact is, the sentiment is mutual, autistic individuals see NT to be the strange and different one. What is different depends on which perspective or side you are taking and creates a them vs us divide.

Second,  ‘different’ implies that there is a norm, a default mode of doing things. It suggests that there is a right (and wrong) or good (and bad) way. Anything different is frowned upon, if not unacceptable. The default mode is set to the NT way of thinking. These are the societal and cultural norms that govern the society or system people live in. Autistic individuals are often expected to assimilate into the default mode and judged by that standard. What is considered right or wrong is arbitrary depending on what the majority does. People who break the norms are not taken to kindly.

Third, ‘different’ is a double edge sword. On the one hand, autistic individuals are treated as different, if not inferior being, individuals with special needs. On the other hand, the difference is conveniently ignored when autistic individuals ask for accommodation and their problems are dismissed on the ground that they are no less different and “everyone is a bit autistic”. In autism awareness speak, it is awareness without acceptance.

Fourth, in general, ‘different’ suggests something that is out of the ordinary and unfamiliar, which some people may be uncomfortable with or aversive to. For autistic individuals with a preference for sameness, the word ‘different’ may trigger anxiety because it is outside routine and therefore, unpredictable.

Autism is a different an alternative way of thinking

Given the above reasons, I’d like to use the word ‘alternative’ instead. Asperger, if not autism, is an alternative way of thinking and doing things.


  • deviating from what is normal or usual, typically in a way that is undesirable or worrying (Oxford dictionaries)
  • different from what is usual or average, especially in a way that is bad (Cambridge dictionary)
  • deviating from the normal or average; unusual in an unwelcome or problematic way (Merriam Webster)  


  • not the same as another or each other; unlike in nature, form, or quality (Oxford dictionaries)
  • not the same. (Informal) used when you think someone or something is unusual or shows bad judgment (Cambridge dictionary)
  • not the same, partly or totally unlike in nature, form, or quality (Merriam Webster)


  • (of one or more things) available as another possibility or choice (Oxford dictionaries)
  • an alternative plan or method is one that you can use if you do not want to use another one. Alternative things are considered to be unusual and often have a small but enthusiastic group of people who support them (Cambridge dictionary)
  • offering or expressing a choice; different from the usual or conventional (Merriam Webster)

If it’s not evident from the dictionaries’ definition above, I’m suggesting the word ‘alternative’ because it suggests a different way of thinking or doing without the pre-conceived notions of right or wrong. In this respect, the alternative way of thinking exists as a right in itself, unusual maybe, but not wrong or bad. Essentially, the gist of what I’m trying to say is if we free ourselves of any pre-conceived beliefs and ideas of right and wrong or good and bad, we open ourselves to new possibilities and alternatives and then hopefully, we can understand people with a different/alternative way of thinking in a new light. This might be a good starting point for awareness.

Autism is an alternative way of thinking.


15 thoughts on “Autism is an alternative way of thinking

  1. Too much for now, be back soon with thoughts. Have them already, but until we develop telepathic comms I need space, time etc 👾

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks Grandma!! 😘 I did hesitate about posting it because I don’t want to be misunderstood as being over pedantic about words, people could argue endlessly about the correct terminology but that would be missing the point and isn’t my intention. I’m really glad you see the difference it makes. 😊

      Liked by 3 people

  2. There are a lot of words related to autism that are difficult. When talking about it to someone that doesn’t know anything I fall back on ASD. But I don’t think it’s a “disorder”. So what to call it? I love, LOVE this Alternative Way Of Thinking!!!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Just autism or autism spectrum? Some people call it Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC).
      Although if I’m writing an academic paper, I might use ASD to reflect that it is the term used in formal diagnostic criteria. It depends on the context and the target audience. This is what I meant by not wanting to sound being pedantic about words. Sometimes, it is not the word itself, but the value-laden meaning people attached to those words that is problematic.
      Thanks so much for loving the alternative, you rock!

      Updated August 2018: I have a change of mind since I wrote this and I’m going to officially retract my statement about using the term ASD, even for an academic paper. As researcher, I have a duty to reduce stigma in autism.

      Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks for loving it! I don’t know, it could have just been me looking at it with the negative connotations. I’m fine with the word ‘different’ if by that, people simply means ‘not the same.’ However, I’ve always felt different and made to feel that different is bad and that I should be more like others or follow the norm. I wish these people would take a different perspective and see my way of being as an alternative that exists in its own right, not less or more superior than their way of being. If that make sense. Thanks for stopping by!😊

      Liked by 3 people

      1. That makes total sense and I totally agree. I think the sad truth of it is that unless you spend a really good amount of time with someone on the spectrum, you don’t get it. Sadly, even those who do spend their whole lives with a loved one on the spectrum won’t get it. Kudos to those who are able to wake up from societal conditioning and appreciate new and alternative perspectives.

        Liked by 4 people

  3. Finished writing for today, so I’m allowed to comment🤓
    I agree that autism could be considered as an alternative way of thinking, nevertheless, since it’s caused by a different neurobiology, it is not available to anyone who would wish to embrace it, but only to those who were born, well, different… And as I have pointed out elsewhere, the major differences between Asperger’s and classic autism, further complicate the situation.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. This is really cool!! You know what? I had never thought of it this way before. I had always thought the opposite – that to be “different” was “better” than being “alternative”, because “alternative” implied that there was a default, as opposed to the idea that everyone is different.

    BUT…you helped me see it differently! The word “alternative” has also been applied to counter-culture, open-mindedness, and of course, really cool music 😉.

    I see it your way now, too! Thank you for offering this awesome alternative perspective; you gave me a light-bulb moment! 👍🏼💙💜

    Liked by 2 people

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