What's in a Minds Eye?
………………..Or in my case, it is a lack of a minds eye.
(QUICK TEST: Close your eyes and think of an apple. What number would you say the image you had in your head was? The closer you are to 5, the more likely you possibly have aphantasia) I am a 5.
I have aphantasia, this is where there is an inability to visualise mental images, in other words I do not think in pictures. When someone tells me to ‘imagine a…’ I cannot do this, there is literally nothing in my head that resembles the thing I am being asked to imagine. Commonly, autistic people are thought to be visual thinkers, some even more visual than that. There is a selected few who are opposite to this and I am one of them.
I came across this term while doing the So You’re Autistic program I mentioned in my previous post. We were discussing how we all think, and most people were saying how they can easily visualise images, I stepped in and said that this was difficult for me to think like that, I did not know it had an official name until later that evening when I decided I wanted to see if this ‘not thinking in pictures’ was an autistic thing or not. I came across the term aphantasia and found a test to see what level I was. (VVIQ) They ask questions such as ‘imagine a sunset’ and ‘imagine a person you know really well’ the questions start of being basic but then gradually become more detailed and intricate. I fell at the first hurdle and could not even answer the first question. Not surprisingly, I got the result of not having a minds eye and so was considered to have aphantasia.
I must say now that aphantasia is not linked to autism. Anyone can have this, perhaps while reading you notice that you do not think in pictures either but are not autistic, or maybe you are. Either way, it is not reliant on having ASD. I am autistic and I also have aphantasia and that is just how it is for me. It does impact my social communication and processing.
It is more a game of memory rather than a game of imagery.
My memory is fantastic, I love having a great memory. I used to beat all the adults in my family at a simple game of pairs when I was a child, all because my memory is quite advanced, and this is how I think. If I am asked to imagine something, with some time I will be able to get something, but not because I can see it in my head, but because I can remember it from when I have seen it before. I know what things look like in my head because I have seen them in real life and have just simply remembered it, so it is all based of facts and what is true rather than pictures and imagery. So, what about dreams? Well, it is the same principal, I do dream, but they are not fantasy made up stuff. Its all based on physical situations or environments that I know in the present. For example, situations such as school or family. Nothing unrealistic because I know what this all looks like; I do not have to imagine it at all.
Aphantasia also has some much more complicated ways of affecting my brain, so for instance, I really struggle with metaphors I just do not understand them. But this is because I cannot see it in my head. Maths also is a problem for me, if you are asked to do a sum, most of you will be able to do it in your head. I can’t. One, I actually do suck at maths, but also because I cannot see it in my head for me to work it out, I have to write it down or cheat and use a calculator or my fingers! Perhaps the most obscure element of my aphantasia, is how it relates to music.
Growing up, I played lots of instruments, I loved music and playing for the school orchestra. I played the recorder (like everyone had to) and also the cornet, violin and I attempted piano and drums. It was actually my mum who noticed how I play music. A few years ago, my sister and I were playing ‘Walking in the Air’ I was on my violin, while my sister played the flute. Mum noticed the difference between my playing and my sisters and asked me if I hear the music in my head, I realised that I could not, so I was just playing note by note very logically rather than going along to how the music sounded in my head. I know how the song goes but when trying to play, it just was not in my head at all.
Aphantasia is hard to grasp, especially if you do not think in this way. But in the same way, its hard for me to understand how people can visualise images when I have no clue about it either. This is just one of the things about my autism that makes me appreciate how my brain works, its so interesting and different to most of those I know.