AUTISM & BLACK AND WHITE THINKING

NO ROOM FOR GRAY

 

I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there’s gum in my hair when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake, I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Quote from Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day – a really great example of black-and-white thinking.

Black-and-white thinking can sometimes feel intentional or manipulative, especially when it happens again and again and in similar situations when it arises.

 

 

Black-and-white thinking is also known as “polarized thinking patterns”. Polarized thinking patterns are ways of thinking that just make sense to people with Autism yet other people with mental illnesses such as Bipolar, Depression, etc. Black and white thinking is a pattern of thoughts that are characterized by thinking in the extremes as they will work in way of being polar opposites.An example is that everything will be the worst day ever or the best day ever. Individuals on the spectrum struggle with the nuances and non-verbal gestures and communication that exist in interpersonal interactions and communication standards
that may come more naturally to others.

 

 

 

 

How many times a day do you find yourself thinking, feeling, or talking about something as if there must be only one or two possible choices or ways to go?For example – Either I’m a winner or I’m a loser; I can prove I was right, so that proves you are wrong; to take care of your needs I have to give up on mine; if you can’t be open and spontaneous (like me) then you are inhibited; I only have two choices, fight or give up; you are controlled by your feelings and he is controlled by their own mind.

 

 

 

Another classic example here is that anything lower than 100% on a math quiz = failure. And, that’s even if the actual grade earned is a 97%. Handling conflicts is a tough one, to begin with, but for someone with Autism, an argument or lack of agreement about a topic = no more friendship. A young woman with Autism may get into an argument with a friend at school and immediately feel they are not friends with this person anymore, struggling to understand that disagreements are a natural part of any relationship and can and should be able to be worked through by communicating with one another. These automatic thoughts can lead to significant setbacks in a child’s academic and social functioning.

 

Notice also that this way of looking at the world also contains very strong judgmental elements. The essential energy behind each polarized thought is that one idea, one person, or one side is good or powerful and the other is wrong or powerless. So, what is going on that locks us into this limited way of looking at life and robs us of our freedom of choice?

 

 

This way of seeing the world (polarized thinking) is not only common, but it is also often emphasized during childhood and teenage years, by our parents, (you are a good child or a bad child; if you don’t tell the truth you are lying) our teachers (If you know the ‘right’ answer or do your exercise the ‘correct’ way you pass; if you can’t do it correctly you fail) and our spiritual leaders (until you are ‘saved’ you are not a true believer; this is only one ‘true’ faith, no other faith can get you into Heaven).

 

Polarized thinking is the very essence of our legal system (either you are innocent or guilty, if you can prove it you win the case, if you don’t have the evidence you lose the case).  Polarized thinking for black-and-white thinking can go to the extremities.Our government and our political parties operate very much within the limits of polarized thinking, which effectively rules out most opportunities for compromise or consensus.

Most wars are between two sides, each stuck in the same kind of restricted thinking but polarized in opposing positions with no room to move. (We are right, they are wrong and we must kill them to prove it).

Sports such as football encourage the same approach to life.

 

This sort of approach is known as “All or Nothing thinking.” As this will interfere with our lives of a healthier relationship or friendship with someone. Does this seem to look and feel familiar to you of what we say to ourselves?

With this type of thinking can distort our reality and contribute to negative impacts on our lives such as anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses. How we change our way of thinking is up to us.

 

HOW DOES BLACK-AND-WHITE THINKING AFFECT US?

 

Black-and-white thinking can create helplessness. An example is that we may put our partner down by saying that they were a complete jerk for not doing what you asked them to do and you on the other hand aren’t willing to change your thoughts and outlook of the problem at hand.

 

*Invites defensiveness in others:

 

For example, you never did the chores I asked you to do. You start yelling and all and that makes them feel worthless and defenseless due to you attacking them with your words. There are a lot of reasons why they may not have done that they could’ve been busy, tired, forgot to do them, and not intentionally trying to drive you insane. This sort of thinking behavior towards our partner will then result in break-ups, divorces, arguments and so much stress, etc to the point that you will be left alone. So, we need to be careful how we use or choose our words to whoever we’re talking to as this can result in consequences. You can always find ways to improve your communication that you’re having issues with. Also, be patient with them.

 

*Negatively impact your relationship with others.

 

Say that you’ve been dating for a while and everything felt really good with being with that person. You feel on top of the world and then all of a sudden they’re the worst person to be with. You’re in a vicious cycle of love and hate, good and bad, up and down. When this happens all too often in a healthier relationship the black-and-white thinking can impact your peace and comfort with each other and being able to connect with each other on a deeper level as you crave love and acceptance from your partner.

 

  • It can hurt your self-image 

 

How and what we see ourselves as a person can be another way of looking at it as we may think either we’re a good or bad person yet in reality we’re in between. Yet, when we think black and white we risk being overly self-critical or we end up refusing to see our own faults, flaws, and imperfections. This can lead us to be hypersensitive towards others’ opinions and make it difficult to accept criticism without deep insecurity that will, in turn, lead us to not being able to love ourselves and allow for growth in all areas of our lives.

 

WHY DO WE USE BLACK-AND-WHITE THINKING?

 

Black-and-white thinking can serve a purpose in the right way yet this is a form of a defense mechanism for us as we act like we’re a victim of a traumatic experience or that we want to be in control of everything and everyone around us.

 

 

So how can we begin to help our children and adolescents develop a sense of the gray area? Below are a few strategies that can be used to help the black-and-white thinker in becoming more comfortable in all of the gray areas that life tends to throw our way.

 

  1. Define the gray area for them

Since black-and-white thinkers don’t naturally see the gray, it can be helpful for others to define it for them. For example, if a child who has Autism worked on a long-term project in art class and brings it home, claiming they are disappointed with how it turned out and writing off the entire thing as a failure, a parent can ask their child questions such as “did you have to learn any new art skills to make this project?” or “what is one thing you do like about the project?” Asking these questions prompts children to see that both positive and negative aspects of one thing can coexist.

  1. Changing our thinking patterns 

Another way to define the gray and expand the walls of black-and-white thinking is to ask the child or young man or woman if there are other reasons that a particular outcome may have taken place. For example, if you are driving along on the highway and notice that there has been a car accident, engage the gray area thinking by asking, “How do you think that car accident happened? How else could it have happened? What else? Anything else?” The goal is to help him to identify that it could have been the red car that hit the blue car. It could have been the driver in the blue car was texting or focusing on a phone call. Perhaps the driver in the red car sneezed or was arguing with the passenger and wasn’t processing that the driver in front of her was slowing down.

When gray area thinking isn’t happening naturally, provide choices or ask questions. For example, “Do you think it could have been the fault of the driver of the red car or the blue car? Do you think the driver didn’t notice that traffic was slowing down?”

And here’s another big set of questions – ask about perspective and feelings. “How do you think the drivers of the cars might feel? What do you think the driver of the red car is feeling right now (if the red is obviously banged up more than the blue car)?”

These conversations will not be met with ease and it will take persistence to initiate discussions about other reasons, feelings, and perspectives again and again until the language and thinking patterns begin to change, even if just a little.

  1. Remind children that a bad moment does not equal a bad day 

Many black and white thinkers are very quick to write off an entire day as a failure after making one mistake, or having one behavioral issue in school. Hearing from their teachers, parents, and peers that the day still has the potential to improve can empower these children to move past their assumptions and generalizations.

This is another tough idea to internalize because one bad thing = a bad day. It’s difficult to weigh the good and the bad of the day and come to the realization that although 1 or 2 bad things happened today, it was still a good day overall. Riding the ups and downs of the day is a life skill that will benefit black and white thinkers as they grow older and learn to navigate the world of school and work and everything else around them.

  1. Utilize a visual 

Visuals are an excellent tool to use to help expand those parameters beyond black and white. Incorporating a rainbow with multiple colors or a traffic light visual can assist black-and-white thinkers by developing alternative options and will lead them to select the most likely and realistic outcome. That is, use the colors or different color lights to identify multiple solutions to a problem, or different possibilities that could take place if a decision is made (e.g., to end a friendship because of a disagreement, or to try to work through it and keep the friendship or to work through it to keep the friendship if it is worth having or losing a friend). A number chart that includes rating scales of 1-10 can also assist children in understanding that the in-between area does exist. The bigger the range, the more the gray area because the nuances of the emotions expand and the child or adolescent has to make a decision about how she feels without it being just happy, mad, or sad. It could be a combination of feelings, or variations of angry, or mad or sad.

  1. Start to see the signs of the all-or-nothing thinking that arrives in our mindset.

Just think about what was shared earlier about how we speak like always, never. Trying to make someone perfect.

  1. Challenge our thoughts 

Just because you’re thinking it, doesn’t mean that you may act upon it or it doesn’t sound true. Take away your negative thoughts and replace them with positive thoughts.

  1. Replacing negative thoughts with a moderate standard of thoughts 
  2. Increase your willingness to feel all your emotions. 

It’s okay to feel not okay some days but the number one thing to remember is how we express or act upon it. Talk to someone that you trust or even talk to the other person that you’re having issues with and try to work on a solution than making it an everyday problem.

  1. List your options 

We know that when we do end up thinking negatively we should be able to weigh up our positive thinking as well. Black-and-white thinking patterns can have quite an impact on everyday functioning, both in and out of school, relationships, friendships, and more.

Incorporating some of these strategies can assist black and white thinkers in challenging their automatic thought patterns. For those who see the world in nothing but extremes, it is important for them to gain some perspective and learn that life rarely fits itself perfectly into an “all or nothing” approach.

Life sure can be tough and have a lot of different feelings and emotions that come with it yet again as I said it’s up to us how we are going to approach the situation and ‘how or what we think. Can someone love me for who I am and what I am.

10. Ask others for help.

 

Sometimes it is good to have someone else to talk to and be able to share our thoughts etc so that we can gain a better understanding and perspective on what and how they see if there was a problem. As said communication is key here and two heads are better than one.

The bottom line here is that with all these strategies and knowing what is causing you to think the way that you do, the sooner the better you can get help for yourself. It’s all about taking care of yourself first and foremost. It’s all about accepting the fact that something isn’t right and with the right methods we can go further in our lives. Remember what we say and do in our lives is up to us and starts and ends with us. We’re the authors and painters of our stories.

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