Mental processing, explained with Pizza

by maximusaurus

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As far as I am concerned, Pizza is one of humanity’s crowning achievements. Its elegantly simple concept, essentially whatever food you want on an edible plate, transcends culture, creed, and nationality. Few human inventions are so ubiquitous, so versatile, or so ridiculously awesome.

Pizza is something almost anybody reading this can relate to, to some extent. As such, it makes for a convenient metaphor with which to explain challenging concepts. Today’s case in point: autism and mental processing.

It’s very common (though certainly not universal) for those of us on the spectrum to take longer to process a question or conundrum compared to our non-autistic peers. This is often wrongly interpreted as us being “slow” or “stupid”. But to simplify the issue as “fast = smart” and “slow = dumb” does a grave disservice for those whose brains have a different way of operating.

Let’s imagine for the moment that the slower-processing brain is a Pizza shop called Spectrum Specialties, and the fast-processing brain is another one called Pablo’s Pizzas.

At Pablo’s Pizzas, each cheesy creation goes through an eight stage production process, each of which adds a topping. 10 Minutes after being ordered, it’s ready to be served.

At Spectrum Specialties, things work a bit differently. First, the pizza undergoes a basic three part process where the dough is rolled, then tomato paste is added, then cheese is added. After that, however, the production line splits depending on the type of pizza; there’s a ten stage meat pizza pipeline, a nine stage vegetarian pizza pipeline, or a twelve stage gluten free pipeline. Finally, the shop’s special sauce is added. All in all, it takes 20 minutes for a Pizza to be made, cooked, and served.

Now, let’s say that halfway through making the pizza, the process is interrupted somehow, say if the customer changes their order. At Pablo’s Pizzas, if the Pizza is at Stage four, only those four stages of work are lost. They can quickly and easily start again.

At Spectrum Specialties, however, a Pizza getting cancelled halfway through the meat-specific pipeline means that eight stages of work are lost.

This is what it can be like for those whose thought processes are slower; being asked another question (or even the same question again) before they’ve finished with the first can derail the whole process and force them to restart a long and painstaking procedure from scratch.

At the end of the day, both shops produce marvelous Pizzas. Pablo’s will get your order to you faster, but at Spectrum Specialties, each individual pizza has more work put into it, plus that all important special sauce. It’s not that Spectrum Specialties is an inferior Pizza shop, they just have a different way of doing things.

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