Information processing in ASC and personalisation of learning via data gathering

Justification and background.

Hight Functioning (HF) Autism is associated with two main traits: difficulty in socialising, and exceptional ability to process patterns and understand systems (Baron Cohen 2008; 2016). Educational institutions have gone in great lengths to improve the inclusion of neurodiverse students. In the case of ASC the focus has been primarily on the first trait.


Exploring ASD advantage in learning.

A common trait of autistic people is that they fixate on topics and dive extremely deep into study (Baron-Cohen 2008; Brosnan & Ashwin 2013). This is, of course, of benefit, especially in higher education. In practical terms, this means studying the topic far more extensively than required, even including optional sources. In the data gathering, I depicted the amount of sources I go through to show this.

It isn’t only memory, however. Autistic students can also be much better at processing various types of information (Mottron et al. 2013). This is partly due also to the exceptional attention to detail. Until recently, the common assumption was that this advantage came at an expense of being able to view the whole picture. Indeed, autistic people tend to display preference for the detail in some studies (Baron-Cohen 2008). This has not been my personal experience at all and I am pleased to see that newer research hast disproved this theory altogether (Johnson et al 2009). Nevertheless, processing information, linking and coming up with ideas based on the input is something that I find extremely easy. Therefore, this is depicted with the blue arrows.

Exploring ASD disadvantage in learning.

Although increasingly teachers are encouraged to focus on the ways ASD students learn, there are relatively few tools to help HF people with autism to make the most of their learning. The usual assumption is that, once the sensory and social obstacles are removed, the student with ASD will easily take care of their own learning, which isn’t necessarily the case. It could be especially false for women with autism, who display different traits. In particular, autistic women tend to struggle more with high executive functions. Another issue specific to females is their area of special interest or fixation, that is not typically associated with ASC. Males on the spectrum tend to gravitate towards formal systems such as mathematics, physics, engineering (Baron-Cohen 2016). Women, on the other hand, often choose literature, art, medicine, fashion, psychology etc (Rynkiewicz et al 2019).

The combination of the two clinical factors might cause issues with the output of the information. In the data I gathered, I specifically tracked feeling of block in output of the information, despite having a considerable amount of the input and ideas, as explained above.

The particular importance in depicting this data, for me, lies in the self-awareness and improvement that could help make the most out of the advantages of the autistic traits, while mitigating the disadvantages. Contrary to the popular belief, people with autism do not lack self-insight (Schriber et al 2014). Thus, a similar self-monitoring could be attempted by others with ASD, giving them more agency in helping themselves, instead of being helped.


I focus on HF autism exclusively in this blog. In particular, I am a female diagnosed later in life (as many of us are), so any findings are to be seen in this light. Apart from that, the data is gathered for one person only.

The same condition is often listed as Asperger’s Syndrome. Baron-Cohen (2008) differentiates between Asperger’s and HF Autism on the basis of language (the former is characterised by advanced language, the latter by initial language delay). For the sake of this project, I am using ‘autism’ exclusively based on the new DSM 5 diagnostic criteria that classify all these variation as Autism Spectrum Condition.

For describing people with autism, I interchangeably use terms ‘people with autism’ or ‘autistic people’. Personally, I am unbothered by either, but that might not be true for everyone. More on the meandres of ASC inclusive language here.

Sharing the sentiment of the majority of HF autistic people I do not refer to any sources by Autism Speaks for the following reasons.

Note that both the ideas and the block elements of this data gathering are subjective and difficult to quantify. Input and output can be measured in the number of pages or words, this, however, cannot. Therefore, I assessed it basically on the subjective amount of time and mental energy it consumed.

On terminology of Autism Spectrum Disorder vs Autism Spectrum Condition HERE. I use both interchangeably.


Baron-Cohen, Simon. (2008) Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. The Facts. OUP, Kindle Edition

Baron-Cohen, Simon. (2016) Autism: An evolutionary perspective. 1st Symposium of EPSIG.

Brosnan, M. Ashwin, C. (2013) Reasoning on the Autism Spectrum in Editor: Volkmar, F. R. Encyclopedia of Autism Spectrum Disorders. Springer NY

Johnson, S. A. Blaha, L. M. Houptb, J. W. Townsendb, J. T. (2008) Systems Factorial Technology provides new insights on global-local information processing in autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Mathematical Psychology

Mottron, L. Soulières, I. Dawson, M. (2013) Perception in Editor: Volkmar, F. R. Encyclopedia of Autism Spectrum Disorders. Springer NY

Rynkiewicz1, A. Janas-Kozik, M. Słopień, A. (2019) Girls and women with autism. Psychiatria Polska

Schriber, R. A. Robins, R. W. Solomon, M. (2014) Personality and self-insight in individuals with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 106(1), 112–130.

6 Replies to “Information processing in ASC and personalisation of learning via data gathering”

  1. This is an excellent visualisation Magda, with a detailed explanation of the background and context. The colour-coded arrows really give a clear sense of your weekly activity – in particular, your reading patterns were revealed quite interestingly I think, moving across the core and secondary texts, and clearly spending a lot of time reading on the weekend! It also shows an interesting relationship between the reading and the ‘churning’, especially mid-week as your ideas are linked to shorter periods of core reading.

    The arrows are a great choice – they convey a sense of moving forward, gaining ground, developing, and that is perhaps what is conveyed here. Moving from left to right is also an established way of reading text in most Western countries, so there is an easy ‘flow’ for the eyes to follow here. I wonder if some of this was part of your decision-making?

    As above the background is a really important part of setting the scene for your work. In your later visualisations, I think you could try to add more reflection on the specific visualisation design choices you are making; for example, why these colours? Why these shapes? How do these elements contribute to the meaning of your visualisation, and your ability to interpret it?

    Your comments on the subjective aspects of this data collection are interesting too, and I wonder if you might explore that further with the optional ‘self-tracking’ task this week. I also hope this given you some useful ‘self-awareness’ of your habits over the week.

  2. I enjoyed your visualization and reflections, Magda! I know very little about how autistic people learn, and whether there’s technology to facilitate their learning.

    Design wise, I believe it was a great idea to use arrows and the words input/output to describe the main stages. The vocabulary we generally use for the computer. So it was very easy to decode your data.

  3. The colours and the bold arrows make this visualisation very vivid. There is a sense you are getting the unpleasant stuff out of the way and then off to your happy place? Am I right and is this a conscious strategy? What will you change in how you manage churn and deep processing/ideation? It looks like you have a good handle on it already. Is there an opposite condition with zero attention to detail? I think I have that.

    1. I wouldn’t call the output unpleasant ha ha ha. I get it out when I have absolute control over the surroundings. This is why I got nothing out on Monday. I was still on holidays in a place I am not used to, so that was the main block.

      I wasn’t thinking as far as strategies yet. I’m exploring. I think I need to work on how I take notes though. I like to take very detailed elaborate notes. That is awesome, but not sustainable at all, so I dropped that. Then I just put notes on the pdfs but that’s too chaotic and I dont end up using them. I tried Evernote, but I dont like it either. SO maybe a solution in that area.

      Re zero attention to detail: that is a question for a specialist I guess? But from what I gather some common neurodiversity like ADD or dyslexia have that component. It could also be simply that one has too much to do overall. The brain can get overloaded. We generally live in times of ridiculous amount of stimuli. I remember from visiting Cuba how much my mind rested just because it wasn’t constantly bombarded with billboards and advertising.

  4. Very interesting visualisation and reflection. In research methods I’m starting to formulate my research topic around Digital education for students with special needs… that’s the topic but not the question … I’m still thinking of how to frame the question. Thank you for the references will dive deeper in them.

    1. Hi Dima

      Glad you liked it. My end goal for the dissertation is also along the lines of inclusion of neurodiverse students. I’ve done a lot of reading on this, so feel free if you have any questions. I probably have references !

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