Understanding Black and White Thinking in Autism


It is a common characteristic of people on the autism spectrum, and come to think of it, a lot of other people, to categorize things into two main categories – black or white.

Of course seeing things as all or nothing, right or wrong leaving no room for the consideration of gray isn’t a requirement of the autistic mind but more so the mind in dire need of certainty. 

We all want things we can count on, predictable experiences, a sense of what’s coming.
 We want to know that we’ll have food when we’re hungry, a roof over our heads and protection from danger. When any of those sources of certainty are threatened we’ll find it in other ways, such as religion, wishful thinking, optimism etc. 


This world we live in, the relationships we choose seem to be increasing sources of unreliability. One of the main ways we reconcile this is to insist our experiences align themselves with inflexible categories in an effort to bring a sense of order to our lives.

If things can only be all or nothing, this way or that way, win or lose we provide ourselves the opportunity to feel more prepared to manage life with only two possible outcomes.

The Gray

The challenge with the all or nothing requirement is that life has a fascinating way of being creative. Instead of falling comfortably into categories it instead provides for countless examples of overlap and interconnectness.

So where does a mind insistent on certainty find solace in such a world? The place I have found it is in mastering resilience. Knowing that the one certain experience I have had is the experience of moving through every experience I’ve ever had.

That’s a certainty we all have and can be our greatest source of strength. If we choose it to be.

What are you working through today?

Photo Credit the justified sinner via Flikr


  1. says

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  2. Bethster says

    Hi Brian.
    This is most helpful.
    All or nothing thinking has put me in deep trouble.
    When I realised there were Grey Areas it was like life fell apart.
    Awareness is a tricky comodity.
    Now I’m begining to see not just Grey Areas but a whole Spectrum.
    Good to have colour in Life and not just Black and White.
    Thanks for your blog.

  3. says

    So I just saw a psychiatrist for the first time and she said that I was “somewhere on the autism sprectrum” and she mentioned Asperbergers. From what I remember this was primarily based on the fact that I see the world in blacks and white and I have a very hard time comprehending the grays in the world. I feel this was an irrisponsible diagnosis especially from one session. Does the inability to the grays mean that I’m some how Autistic?

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