Mind Blindness

Brian Edward Luckau, Psychology with a Minor in Autism Studies

Sure, we ASD folks have our own unique brand of mind blindness.

When I was in Jr. High, I got a new art teacher.  Oddly, she looked an awful lot like the old art teacher, but was a little taller (or shorter, I can’t remember) and she was, let’s say “wider.”  I made a comment that she “looks just like Mrs. so-and-so, only fatter.”  I imagined that anybody else involved in the conversation would also see it the same way I did.  It wasn’t an insult, just a factual observation. I mean what are the chances that the replacement teacher would look so much like the old teacher, only with one different attribute?  She did not see it that way, and neither did anybody else in the room.  This was mind-blindness on my part because I assumed that everybody else around was thinking the same way that I was.

But most everybody else has their own unique brands of mind blindness too.

Imagine a typical person in the workplace (a computer company.)

Now down the aisle comes a guy with Asperger’s syndrome and social anxiety.  He sees that there are people in the way of getting to his desk. Instead of wanting to navigate around them or risk talking to them, he goes around the long way, and comes down the other end of the isle to get to his desk.  He does this because navigating around people in the aisle causes him anxiety, and because they might spring questions on him for which he does not feel ready – also causing more anxiety.  He generally avoids people, not wanting to look anybody in the eye the entire day if he can help it.

He sits down at his desk where he has a stuffed bear on his desk that he generally can’t stand to be without. Today, he is pleased with himself that he managed to go to the bathroom without bringing the bear with him.  But now he is glad to be back in the company of the plush bear.

Meanwhile, the normal “healthy” person is observing and sees all this and thinks, “What a freak!”. He assumes that the guy just wants to be annoying or to get attention, etc.  He would probably never even think about trying to get in the mind of the other guy, what it is like to have ASD, what it is like to have anxiety disorder, etc.  Rather he assumes everybody should be the same.  Is that not mind blindness?

In this particular situation that I’m remembering from years ago, a couple of the “healthy” individuals decided that the ASD person in question needed to be taught a lesson. They seemed to have an attitude of “it’s dirty work but somebody’s got to do it.”  When he next went to the restroom, they took the stuffed bear away and hid it.  This resulted in much unpleasantness, and the ASD individual being called into HR first, followed by the bear-snatchers.

What kind of mind blindness must be lead to this kind of thinking (and acting?) When they see an autistic person and are critical of their behavior, it is definitely not because they are trying to get into his/her head or imagine that someone else might have thoughts and feelings different from their own.

We all seem to suffer from mind blindness when someone or something is different than what we are used to.

Cooking and Connecting

Xander Winter, Hospitality Management

I have trouble connecting with people. I don’t make friends easily, and I have a tendency to see the world only through my eyes. Although it may be unusual, learning to cook taught me the skills I needed to connect with people.

When I was three years old, my mom, sister, and I started baking occasionally. I fell in love instantly. The smells and tastes were heavenly. After doing this for seven years, I wanted to learn how to cook by myself.

As a ten year old, I was still too young to cook alone. This was my parents’ rule based on the fact that my head didn’t even reach the counter top yet. So my only option was baking with my mom’s help until I was old enough to handle sharp knives, a hot stove, and dangerous kitchen appliances.

Finally, at twelve, my mom granted me permission to cook with adult supervision. I was elated! After two years of research, I knew exactly what I was going to make. I found a recipe in a cookbook for chicken stir fry. I went with my mom to the store to hand-pick the ingredients.

When we returned home, I was eager to begin cooking my first delectable meal. But mom had work to do, so I had to wait an hour. I was so upset! Waiting an hour seemed impossible! I began an hour-long staring contest with the digital clock. As soon as that hour was up, I shouted to my mom. She replied that she would meet me in the kitchen. After 5 more minutes, my supervisor arrived, and I got to work!

I carefully arranged all of my cooking utensils on the counter. I got the cutting board. I set a pot of salted water on the stove, and turned on the flame. While the water heated, I prepared all of the frozen vegetables and meat (I used frozen vegetables to speed up the process). I popped the frozen vegetables into the microwave and hit the defrost button. The whirring of the microwave was hypnotic. I cut the chicken breasts into bite-sized pieces. This was the first time I had used a knife, so I had all the speed and precision of a snail.

When the vegetables were done cooking, and I was finished cutting the chicken, I took out a pan, poured a couple tablespoons of oil into it, put it on the stove, and turned on the heat. When the oil was hot enough, I gently placed the chicken into the pan. The sizzling sound that came from the pan as it cooked was amazing, almost as if the food was whispering to me. The aromas tickled my nose. It was unlike any experience I’d ever had. I added garlic powder, salt, pepper. I lightly coated the chicken in three different seasonings. Next, I took 10 soy sauce packets that my family had accumulated over years of Asian restaurant delivery, and tediously opened each individual packet, pouring them each over the tender, brown chicken. I transferred the fantastic smelling chicken into a larger bowl.

After what seemed an eternity, the water was boiling. I broke a box of spaghetti noodles in half and laid them in the pot. I grabbed the now defrosted vegetables and threw them into the pan I had just used to cook the chicken. When the vegetables were finished, I placed them in the bowl of chicken and blended everything together. When the noodles were just past the 5 minute mark, I turned off the flame under the pot, carefully grabbed the pot with potholders, strained the pasta, and let the steam rise over my face and cleanse my pores. I then immediately took the noodles and put them into the still hot pan.  I added garlic powder, salt, salt, pepper, and more soy sauce, stirring the noodles for two minutes. The noodles were then added to the bowl with the chicken and vegetables. I thoroughly mixed the food together.

I plated the food for my mom, dad, brother, sister, and me. We sat down at the table and ate. Watching my family take their first bites, and seeing the happiness in their eyes was one of the most satisfying moments of my life. I then tasted my masterpiece, and it was just that. The taste was something that I never thought was possible. It was awesome.

After dinner was cleaned up, my mom came to me to let me know how proud of me she was. She also provided my first critique. She pointed out that I didn’t listen to her when she gave me instructions while we were cooking.  She also mentioned that while the food was good, is was far too salty for her taste. I was devastated. I thought everything I did was perfect.

She then explained to me that different people have different tastes, and that if I wanted to cook more, that I needed to consider the needs of others, as well as listen to suggestions from others. I had never considered these ideas before. I know my mom is a smart woman, so I decided to try it out, not just in cooking, but also in everyday life.

I soon discovered that it was much easier to connect with people when I asked their opinion and showed them that I cared. When cooking, I would ask what foods people liked (or didn’t like). I would also add or remove items based on their specific needs. In life, I started asking others if there were things they liked to do, and I would do those things with them. As my cooking skills improved, I stopped doing everything based on what I wanted, and learned to listen to and accommodate other people’s needs. These newfound skills have helped me to build more lasting relationships.