Do you see yourself as a Bottom-up Thinker?

Many people on the Autism Spectrum are bottom-up thinkers. It’s part of what makes us so different in the way we approach problems, make decisions, assimilate our world.

Spoiler Alert! Bottom-up Thinking does not mean you’re autistic. That’s a chicken-and-egg situation where being an egg does not make you a chicken.

How does bottom-up thinking differ from other kinds of thinking?

Until I was diagnosed as being on the spectrum and began researching the condition I had no idea that there were, officially, different thought processes going on. All I knew was that I often didn’t ‘think’ the way others ‘thought’. For decades I put it down to my mental health: I could be slow to come up with solutions or totally on-the-ball instant decision maker (bi-polar mode); I could be totally off-the-wall in the way I saw a situation, or oblivious to those around me (Borderline Personality Disorder, AKA complex attachment disorder, mode).

Basically it’s bottom-up and top-down

I found that there are many articles that deal with these styles of thought processing, including a whole load of stuff on Wikipedia. Problem is that, while Wiki- goes on about how bottom-up and top-down thinking are used in an exhaustive set of scenarios, the others mostly set one against the other: bottom-up is best, top-down is best. I didn’t come across a single feature that dealt with them equally.

My take is that they are both valid, it just depends on the situation – what needs to be achieved – that makes one preferable at that time. And that’s why it is better to have lots of different individuals, thinking in as many different ways, drawing conclusions from as many different standpoints.

Think of a world where everyone was a bottom-up thinker, drawing on aspects of experience and prior knowledge to work towards a solution. It would probably be full of innovators and inventors, off-the-wall processing based on the senses; a lot of making and creating, dreaming and scheming.

Contrast that with a world full of top-down thinkers, seeing an over-arching problem to be overcome or dealt with that requires breaking down into constituent parts. A world of entrepreneurs, accountants, constructors, working logically and analytically within management committees. A lot of discussion, structured planning, and meetings.

My very basic way of showing how I see the difference. It may make it the concept clearer to explain that in some countries outside the UK the expression is “Can’t see the forest for the trees.” When I first heard it used I thought the word “wood” referred to the actual timber and not to “woodland”. But that’s my literal take – and something for future exploration.

Balancing these two extremes – bottom-uppers who would create and innovate but could not operate in a societal construct, top-downers who would manage and plan but have little to plan or manage – is optimum to me.

This is why we need all kinds of individuals working towards a greater whole.

This is why we need to embrace diversity.

See also: my Wood poem – describing how I see the details before I see the whole picture. Typical bottom-up thinking.