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.


One thought on “Mind Blindness

  1. ndcuvu

    I like this. As bad as I am at reading some people, they seem to be equally terrible at reading me. It’s something of a relief, but it stings a little when people point it out about me without being able to see it in themselves. :/


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