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Why do autistic people go off on a tangent?

Jonn

Well-Known Member
V.I.P Member
Copilot:

Autistic people
often find themselves going off on tangents during conversations, which can sometimes appear confusing or unrelated to non-autistic individuals. Let’s explore some reasons behind this behavior:


  1. Logical Train of Thought: To autistic individuals, their train of thought may seem normal and logical. They move from one idea to the next in a way that makes sense to them. However, to non-autistic people, it might appear as if they are jumping around from subject to subject without a clear connection.
  2. Avoiding Repetition: Autistic people might avoid repetitive discussions that non-autistic individuals tend to engage in. When neurotypicals talk something to death and go over the same topic repeatedly, it can be frustrating for someone with autism. Going off on tangents allows them to explore new ideas and avoid the monotony.
  3. Masking and Filling Silence: When masking (imitating social behaviors), autistic individuals instinctively know that they should keep conversations going. If there’s a gap or an awkward silence, they might start talking about random topics to maintain the flow.
  4. Boredom and Frustration: Autistic people may pivot to different topics due to boredom or frustration. If a conversation lacks stimulation or holds no interest, they might naturally shift away from the current subject. Additionally, they might get impatient with unnecessary exposition or ignorance in discussions.
  5. Unique Communication Styles: Autistic traits vary widely, and there’s no single “typical” autistic person. However, their communication styles often differ from neurotypicals. Some may be highly passionate about specific subjects and engage deeply when discussing them, while others struggle with mundane or repetitive conversations.

I was actually looking for a different answer.
I will do more research sometime. :cool:
 
IMO only (3) is ASD-specific. I don't doubt the others occur, and perhaps at a different frequency to NT's, but I question that there's a qualitative difference.

3+5 makes sense though.

"Standard-issue" masking can get you into random situations where you have to fake something that isn't actually interesting to you. And we lean towards being less interested than NT's in everything except our special interests.

Weave in that memory is associative, so talking about something uninteresting will get a lot of "not quite random" ideas popping up. If one of those is more interesting, or leads us towards something we're actually interested in, I can see it being easy to get lost.

FWIW I drift around in conversations even if I set the topic myself. I don't have to, but I like to. It's not accidental though (each "context-switch" is a conscious decision), so I can always find the path back and get back on point. People I know get used to it :)

OTOH if this happened via masking (no longer possible for me, but 30 years ago it used to happen fairly often) I could definitely lose control and get lost.

But I know NT's who skip between topics the same way as I do, so I don't think it's only an Aspie thing.
I do think having it happen in the middle of a topic we accidently trapped ourselves in due to masking is ASD-only :)
 
Hmm, I don't think conversations are as cut and dried as that. At school in drama class we were taught that the topic of some conversations can vary, and we done an experiment by sitting in a circle and each person said one word and the person next to them said a word related to that word (for example, "pen", "ink"....) until we got to the last person and that person's word was literally nothing to do with pens, for example, "space shuttle". And the drama teacher said it's what happens during a lot of conversations, the conversation can switch without neither parties realising.

With me, it depends on the person. Some people I only have smalltalk with and nothing more, others I can talk about anything to and we often chat about something really random, others I can have deeper conversations with, and others I can gossip and joke around with. I do like the gossiping.

Often when I hear some NTs having a conversation they start getting stuck on one detail and won't get to the point until the other person has proved they have digested the detail, while I'm sitting there thinking "hurry up and get to the point! I don't care how many trees were in the field you're talking about, what happened in the field??" Lol
It's usually extroverts that do this though.
 
Copilot:

Autistic people
often find themselves going off on tangents during conversations, which can sometimes appear confusing or unrelated to non-autistic individuals. Let’s explore some reasons behind this behavior:


  1. Logical Train of Thought: To autistic individuals, their train of thought may seem normal and logical. They move from one idea to the next in a way that makes sense to them. However, to non-autistic people, it might appear as if they are jumping around from subject to subject without a clear connection.
  2. Avoiding Repetition: Autistic people might avoid repetitive discussions that non-autistic individuals tend to engage in. When neurotypicals talk something to death and go over the same topic repeatedly, it can be frustrating for someone with autism. Going off on tangents allows them to explore new ideas and avoid the monotony.
  3. Masking and Filling Silence: When masking (imitating social behaviors), autistic individuals instinctively know that they should keep conversations going. If there’s a gap or an awkward silence, they might start talking about random topics to maintain the flow.
  4. Boredom and Frustration: Autistic people may pivot to different topics due to boredom or frustration. If a conversation lacks stimulation or holds no interest, they might naturally shift away from the current subject. Additionally, they might get impatient with unnecessary exposition or ignorance in discussions.
  5. Unique Communication Styles: Autistic traits vary widely, and there’s no single “typical” autistic person. However, their communication styles often differ from neurotypicals. Some may be highly passionate about specific subjects and engage deeply when discussing them, while others struggle with mundane or repetitive conversations.

I was actually looking for a different answer.
I will do more research sometime. :cool:
I would also add another point that certainly pertains to myself: #6. Redirecting the conversation towards special interests, topics that they would rather talk about or have specific knowledge about. Sometimes this results in a bit of a monologue that can cause others to back away from the conversation and end the interaction. I have to be very careful with this and intently watch the reactions of others in this situation. Most people don't like having the conversation "hijacked" and turned into a one-sided monologue. Mistakes made in my youth and ignorance.
 
I would also add another point that certainly pertains to myself: #6. Redirecting the conversation towards special interests, topics that they would rather talk about or have specific knowledge about. Sometimes this results in a bit of a monologue that can cause others to back away from the conversation and end the interaction. I have to be very careful with this and intently watch the reactions of others in this situation. Most people don't like having the conversation "hijacked" and turned into a one-sided monologue. Mistakes made in my youth and ignorance.
When I had obsessions with people as a teenager I used to do this, but it wasn't due to not being aware of it. It was due to panicking because at the time nothing else in life was interesting except my obsession and I had an itching urge to talk about them. You know how you're not supposed to scratch a mosquito bite but you do anyway because it feels so relieving to scratch the itch? That's what it was like with my obsessions - I had to talk about them or I'll go crazy. But it wasn't because I didn't understand that others weren't interested. I knew that. But when your mind is overtaken by an obsession like how a computer virus overtakes your computer, it's hard to think about anything else. And I was unhappy. I think my mum should have taken me to therapy to help get the obsession out my head because it was becoming an issue, and maybe she did but knowing me I probably refused because I was stubborn and hated any kind of outside support.
 
For me it's low theory of mind, I think. I cannot gauge when someone else is interested or being polite. I have to police myself in real life interactions, and run through a script of questions to try and get them talking instead of me, but on rare occassion I'll go off on a tangent. It is not so dissimilar to when someone (NT or ND) starts journaling and the writing can go anyplace. The lack of natural back-and-forth reciprocity creates a similar effect when I get "going."
 
I naturally pick up on moods, body language, face expressions and tone of voice, in fact I soak it up like a sponge and become affected by it. It is an advantage though, but it does make me sensitive or overwhelmed.
 
@Jonn

I was wondering about the premise: autistic people always going on tangents. Don't think that's always true since many with ASD don't talk much.

For those who talk, not noticing clues about the conversation could be an issue. For those with ADHD+autism, tangents is how the brain works -- too many connections.
 
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@Neonatal RRT, talking of “going off on a tangent”, it is helpful to remember a tangent is a straight line that departs from a curve. I, too, find myself following an idea that I find interesting, talking about it, exploring its consequences, talking about those, until my wife tells me to stop. ;)
 
@Jonn

I was wondering about the premise: autistic people always going on tangents. Don't think that's always true since many with ASD don't talk much.

For those who talk, not noticing clues about the conversation could be an issue. For those with ADHD+autism, tangents is how the brain works -- too many connections.
I tend to agree with what you are suggesting. However, to be clear, @Jonn did not use the word "always". Many with an ASD are rather quiet, but usually it's because of the difficulties with all the skills of verbal conversation, and the more people involved, the more difficult (small talk, initiating, maintaining, knowing the precise moments to jump in/out of the conversation, etc.), all the nuances of conversational reciprocity. I often find myself sitting quietly amongst others listening to the conversation with minimal input. However, get me up in front of a classroom, a lecture hall, or any other situation where I can simply be allowed to talk with minimal interruption, I can be real "motor mouth" and go on and on for extended periods of time.
 
Yes.
"Microsoft Copilot is a chatbot developed by Microsoft and launched on February 7, 2023. Based on a large language model, it is able to cite sources, create poems, and write songs."

And I'd still like to see Jonn's explanation.

The material in the post wasn't enclosed in quotation marks.
The reference to his thinking he'd need to research it further
is ambiguous.
 
Interesting. Just the other day I watched a YouTuber (Greg Salazar, "Fix or Flop") pose a question to ChatGPT in testing out its ability to diagnose a computer problem explained in a somewhat nebulous manner.

It responded in a similar manner, itemizing a number things that could be potentially wrong, citing that each one of them must be conducted in utilizing what presumably amounted to logical deduction.

The actual answer to the problem as I recall was I believe the fourth itemized thing to consider. Interesting to Greg Salazar, as while it was impressive to him that it provided the right answer, it couldn't seem to prioritize the itemized possibilities.

Causing Greg to be a bit puzzled as to the overall effectiveness of ChatGPT. That while technically it worked, it didn't appear to be the ultimate source of information, in providing a concise answer. Salazar went on to repeat the process with different computer problems, with similar results.

Maybe this kind of technology isn't "ready for primetime". What do you think, @Jonn? What was the answer you were looking for, if Copilot didn't directly provide it?

Or was it that ultimately Copilot itemized the possibilities, without exclusively elaborating or prioritizing probabilities?
 
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These technologies are probabilistic sequence predictions based on massive amounts of data and knowledge. Just on the virtue of humans being generally wrong a lot of the time, they will be wrong a lot of the time. But they are invaluable as tools.
 
These technologies are probabilistic sequence predictions based on massive amounts of data and knowledge. Just on the virtue of humans being generally wrong a lot of the time, they will be wrong a lot of the time. But they are invaluable as tools.

That's the interesting part of it that I see presently.

That as a "tool", it remains an aid to getting a particular job done through a deductive process. But not to be used like a "genie that comes out of a bottle".

It's one thing to have a tool. Another to know how to use it based on its intended purpose.
 
Thanks tree, I was a bit confused with the post. I have not been using the AI aps and so did not recognize it.

But to address Jonn's question, I haven't really thought much about why it happens, but did long ago note it does seem to happen quite often with me.

Just speculating a little, I feel like my mind does not operate in a purely linear fashion. It jumps around a lot and makes some odd associations. I also feel there is a random factor at work. I sometimes visualize my brain like the wheels of a slot machine whirring around and then stopping by chance momentarily and then taking off again spinning. It's not a constant, but a mode I can slip into. When I need to stay on track thinking about something, I sometimes have to conciously keep the brain from going off on tangents.
 
Sometimes "going off on a tangent" can actually be a means to an end, like coming full-circle in a discussion that merits alternate direction rendering some kind of conclusion.

So I don't necessarily view tangents themselves as being "led astray" in discussions. Just because some people may not immediately recognize their significance doesn't mean it's inherently wrong to do so.

Though at the same time it may also serve to indicate when "the shortest distance between two points is a straight line" may not really apply. -Which could also run contrary to some autistic mindsets.
 
I am laughing, because it is OFTEN my husband's complaint about. The problem is, that when he is discussing something, it reminds me of something else and I end up saying so and then, it happens again and again and poor man says: what were we discussing? However, thankfully, I remember, so I can bring him around the the original topic.

I tend to fill in silence, because I hate silence.

Do need stimulating chats and if I find the conversation boring, I do get detached and it is almost a dismay of complete bordeom and wondering when to politely exist.

My brain is a hive of activity and because I spend so much time on my own, when my hubs comes home, I go off on a tangent.
 

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