Autism Profile: Helen

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Helen lives in two separate worlds that are not connected. Both are based on patterns.

  • A sensory visual world that is 2D in nature. She is fascinated by the patterns of light, dark, and colour. She has a very strong sense of aesthetics (pattern). This aspect is very strongly emotional.
  • A thinking world of patterns and associations. Helen’s oral and verbal skills of reasoning and understanding the world connect to her thinking world, which is far richer than the linear spoken and written world. This is why she struggles to put her thoughts in writing.

Her thinking style is very different to her perception. This is the root of the apparent contradictions in the way Helen operates. It appears that while her experience of the world is primarily visual, she actually gets little information from this modality. As a result, learning from visual information other than diagrams and the written word is extremely difficult.

Sensory Issues


Helen shows signs of hypersensitivity to visual stimuli:

  • Fascination with colour and form
  • Strong sense of aesthetics, visual patterns
  • Eye strain under fluorescent lights

Helen does have major problems with spatial awareness and it appears that she has very little or no 3D vision. She has no sense of distance. She got a driving license (after 6 attempts) but does not drive because she had too many accidents. It is likely that this is because Helen does not process visual information in the same way as other people. She appears to have difficulty resolving patterns and lines into actual objects quickly. While this makes her very good at design, it is not conducive to being a safe driver. Given her difficulties with spatial awareness, it is surprising that she actually passed her driving test.

It appears that Helen sees patterns more than objects. While she can identify the handle to open a window, she is unable to work out how to use that information to work out how to open the window. She gets lost easily because she does not recognise familiar places if seen from a different direction or in the dark. But she does have a very strong sense of patterns, of light and dark, and of colour. She also has a very strong sense of the whole, of aesthetics.

Helen is able to manipulate space in front of her, but that is likely to be because of kinaesthetic combined with 2D vision rather than 3D perception. She enjoys making hats (3D) activity, but each has to be a one off. She could not make 10 identical hats, for example.


Helen shows signs of hypersensitivity to sound,

  • Doesn’t like loud noises
  • Easily distracted by noise, open plan studio is a nightmare
  • Has very acute hearing under certain circumstances (such as hearing conversation at the other side of a large room).

However, noise is ok if it is constant and fairly uniform – such as in a noisy café. She therefore has no difficulty with separating background from foreground noise and is able to ignore background noise.

Helen has problems discriminating sounds which caused an issue with parts of speech and language therapy. She finds it difficult to correct diction because of difficulties with sound discrimination and because her visual system makes it extremely difficult for her to see what mouth movements her client is doing.

Helen’s issues with sound discrimination cause problems with learning. She finds she needs the kinaesthetic feedback from exaggerated articulation as well as the sound in order to take in information.


Helen seeks out certain fabrics because of feel – generally natural fibres. This may be a sign of hyper-sensitivity to light touch.

Helen is cuddly with close family members but strangers are a problem. It is likely that touch from strangers is a problem because that kind of touch tends to come with emotion. Light touch that she is not expecting, startles her.


Helen is hypersensitive to the smell of meat, cooked and raw. This means she cannot stand to eat meat, but she does not prevent her children from eating meat.

Otherwise smell is not a major problem. She does like perfume, which suggests the hypersensitivity to smell is not generalised.

Body Awareness and balance

Helen has been diagnosed with dyspraxia and is not good with gross or fine motor movements. Normally stimulating hypo-sensitivities has a calming effect. Helen has already discovered this and stimulates this sense using dance, fidget products, exaggerated articulation, and typing.

Helen struggles with heights and can fall on uneven ground. Although she can perform dance moves, it was very difficult for her to learn to do this. This indicates that Helen does have problems with balance.


Helen is hypersensitive to emotion. She does not like conflict, and hates confrontation. She is too quick to apologise and does not stand up for herself. This makes Helen very vulnerable to exploitation and generally being taken advantage of.

It does not help that Helen cannot label emotions – neither her own nor others. This makes it difficult to process experiences and learn from them.

Helen has no problems separating her own emotions from the emotions of others. But uses this understanding to withdraw or smooth over the problem rather than trying to solve the problem.


Processing Issues

Helen has issues with slow and delayed processing. She is easily overwhelmed if she has to deal with more than one thing at once. She struggles to process incoming (verbal) information. This affects learning and social interaction.

Helen has difficulty organising her thoughts, getting to the point, and spotting mistakes. It can be difficult to translate a pattern and associative thinking style to the 1D verbal output that people use to communicate. This will make it difficult to organise thoughts in a logical manner.

Preferred learning styles

Helen has a problem with learning because her preferred learning styles clash with her sensory issues. She clearly learns aurally.

  • Likes to read out loud in order to learn something
  • Reasons things through by talking

But this is difficult for her because of issues with sound discrimination. If people slur words, she will not be able to make them out. In addition, she will have difficulty if the acoustics are poor, and sound gets distorted.

  • Helen also learns kinaesthetically:
  • Learns best by typing instead of dictating.
  • Needs the feedback from mouth movements when learning something orally. This will also help with sound discrimination by providing an extra modality.
  • Learnt dance not by watching but by being physically manipulated into position.

Although Helen is very visual in many ways this is not her preferred way of learning. She does not learn simply by watching or being shown.

On the whole we can conclude that it is quite difficult to get information into Helen, but it is comparatively easy to get the information out of her. Helen communicates very effectively in writing and orally if given enough time to get her thoughts in order. Helen relies heavily on word processing and mindmaps in order to get her thoughts in order and to reason through the issues. Helen has to work hard to learn new material.  She has obtained two degrees, but it has been hard work.

Thinking styles

Helen is a verbal (written and oral) pattern and associative thinker. She is also an abstract thinker and can think in detail while seeing the bigger picture.

Helen is a verbal thinker because she likes to reason things through verbally. She likes linguistics which is very much a verbal subject. Linguistics is very much about sounds, words, and most importantly patterns (grammar). Helen studied speech and language therapy, but got on best with the language part – the part involving grammar and patterns. It is understandable that Helen found the phonetics part difficult because of issues with sound discrimination and lack of the visual skills necessary to work out someone’s mouth movements.

It is the patterns that feature in Helen’s visual work. The visual work is very strongly connected to emotions.

Helen is both a detail and a global thinker. This is particularly evident in her creative work. This would have helped her in her language therapy. It is this that makes her a good problem solver.

Helen applies her creativity to visual activities, but the only evidence that she applied this to academic studies is her high marks for her studies – in the subjects she could handle. There appears to be a longing that is not well articulated to apply her creativity to her cognitive world as well as her sensory world.

Helen’s creativity also comes from her associative way of thinking. She sees connections between things that others do not see.


Helen has severe issues with numbers. She appears to have no sense of the meaning of numbers. When it comes to money, she either has, or she does not have. It looks as if Helen struggles with the concept of sequence.

  • Lack of understanding of distance, except perhaps by time
  • Lack of ability to deal with numbers. No concept of money and how much something is worth in monetary terms.
  • Appears to be able to only carry out simple plans
  • Often gets lost in unfamiliar places, makes mistakes following directions.
  • Struggles with a complex set of instructions unless learnt kinaesthetically, as in dance and hat making.

Bad choices of study topics

Helen has an uncanny ability to make bad choices about study topics

  • Interior design did not work out because of the lack of 3D perception. She could not design on paper, but only by prototyping.
  • Fashion design did not work out well because of the inability to design on paper and the inability to work out cutting patterns from her creations.
  • It is probably as well she did not continue Fine Art onto degree level studies. It is unlikely that Helen would have coped well with the interpretation of art – because she perceives things so differently.

Helen has expressed a desire to study cognitive neuroscience because she is interested in brain function. Again, this is a bad choice because this requires the ability to visualise the structures of the brain in 3D along with their 3D relationships.

Executive Function


Inhibition is not generally a problem for Helen except in circumstances where there is a lot of emotion. She does have problems with intrusive thoughts until they are completely processed

Problem Solving

Helen is very good at problem solving. She has solved lots of problems in order to do her modelling – mostly to get round the lack of 3D perception and visualisation. It is extremely difficult to get good marks in linguistics if you cannot problem solve. Linguistics is all about patterns and problem solving. Speech and language therapy is about problem solving. Helen could help people with aphasia (loss of speech).

Planning and execution

Helen is not good at planning and execution. She can follow simple plans, but struggles to execute all the steps if something unexpected happens or she gets distracted. It is likely that she uses her problem solving skills to compensate to a certain extent.

Planning travel is a real problem. She makes mistakes and gets lost. She has problems with directional instructions (left/right). This will be due to the lack of spatial awareness and lack of 3D perception. Problems with sequential information will also make this difficult.


Helen is not good at organisation. She has to work very hard at it.

How Diagnostic Criteria are Met

Section A: Social Communication and Social Interaction

Helen has issues with slow and delayed processing. She is easily overwhelmed if she has to deal with more than one thing at once. This combined with difficulty discriminating between sounds means that she struggles to process incoming (verbal) information. Helen tends to speak at length about a topic and proceed with the conversation in her own way without properly interacting with the other person. If the other person tries to change the topic, or go back for clarification, she will carry on regardless. The normal to and fro of conversation escapes her.

In addition, because she does not understand emotions, she is unable to engage in the emotional reciprocity of social interaction.

Helen does not understand the world and is easily taken advantage of. She has no concept of the value of money and therefore although she would like to be self employed, she would need a lot of help to be able to sustain it without getting exploited. She has invited homeless people into her home who she has then found it extremely difficult to get rid of.

The way she experiences and interacts with the world is to bizarre for most people to connect with. It is just exploited by people who pretend to be friendly.

Apart from issues with slow and delayed processing, Helen would not be able to interpret facial expression or body language because of her difficulty in resolving her visual world into separate objects. This is also why she is so good at art and also at design when she can prototype. She can draw a facial expression, but not actually interpret it.

Section 2: Repetitive, Restricted Patterns of Behaviour, interests, or Activities

For this section, you have to meet at least two out of four criteria. Helen meets the sensory, difficulty with change, and narrow range of interests criteria.

Helen easily meets the sensory criterion as she has many sensory issues as described above. Her sensory perception is very different to the norm.

Helen is fixated on aesthetics. The aesthetics of her environment is very important to her. As a result her home is sparsely furnished and uncluttered.

As we saw above Helen finds it difficult to choose appropriate topics of study because the clash between her perceptual and thinking worlds. However, she does get fixated on different topics, which she attempts to go into in depth as far as her limitations will allow.

The result is that she has a narrow range of interests and Helen’s life is very narrow – and to the outsider looking in – very boring. Not that she finds her life boring. Dealing with her challenges on a day to day basis makes her life anything but boring.

Finally, Helen’s processing issues makes dealing with unplanned changes problematic. Because of her fixation on aesthetics she does not like it at if someone moves something because that destroys the overall aesthetics of her environment.

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