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  • Writer's pictureHannah's Hope

Context Blindness

Rachel Anderson is a writer and copywriter for Autism Parenting Magazine as well as the author of two books. She is also a wife and mother to two children who have special needs. She focuses this particular article on the topic of context blindness among children with autism. She titles the article "How to Help your Autistic Child with Context Blindness" to help explain to parents and caregivers the overall definition of the concept, how to recognize it, approach it, and help those who experience it. The simple definition of context blindness is when someone fails to recognize the context of the situation they are in, thus causing them to act, speak or dress inappropriately. It may also make the person feel afraid or anxious of other people's actions because they feel as if they don't quite "match." In summary, they only see the action and not the reasoning behind it; it's like focusing in on something really hard and the rest of the world fading away in the background. The next concept to consider is "mind blindness" which is when context blindness causes someone to miss some important factors like body language, tone of voice, misunderstanding of a facial expression, or the socially appropriate way to conduct themselves in a particular setting. It's essentially just not understanding the context around someone's emotions; the inability to understand the context around an emotional response. Context blindness for people with autism can affect relationships and their ability to just enjoy life as it makes them uncomfortable and impacts their daily life, which eventually, takes a toll on them. Recognizing this concept is important because of the direct relationship between social interaction and mental health. Studies have shown that the negative effects of social interaction can worsen any pre-existing depression or anxiety, or encourage those feelings to surface, bringing about unwanted issues to an already difficult situation. Some symptoms to look out for include: withdrawing from activities that they typically enjoy, self harm, expressing feelings of worthlessness, and avoiding social interactions. Anderson cited Dr. Peter Vermeulen's book that states, "sensitivity plays out in different arenas, from sensory issues to language/communication to social skills." In reference to understanding the different meanings of the same gesture, expression, or action, the book says: "to cope with these ever changing meanings, the human brain developed a remarkable ability, contextual sensitivity, to unravel the inherent ambiguity of stimuli and respond appropriately to it." Context sensitivity is important practically everywhere a person may go whether that be social environments or private conversations. The ability to properly interpret situations gives a person the "clues" they need to respond appropriately, thanks to the correct use of information processing. This "skill" will help to smooth out situations that generally cause anxiety, meaning that in the future, certain situations can bring them pleasure and they will begin to fear them less. The next section of Anderson's article focuses on how to help someone with context blindness "see." Those items include: braille, glasses, and lasik surgery, but not in the literal sense, of course. Braille is the practice of showing someone pictures or photographs as training for emotion recognition, which allows them to recognize and respond to other's emotions. However, this practice does not help them to see the cause of these emotions, which is why they need glasses. Social stories are a good way to show the nuance of a situation and give a full and clear picture, thus helping the person to understand that "context determines behavior." This will also help them determine which social skills to use in a given situation. Lasik surgery is the more permanent solution to having contextual sensitivity. This strategy includes the tips that speech and language pathologists encourage parents to use like concrete communication, avoiding sarcasm or slang, practice skills as much as possible, both in and out of context, help your child interpret and understand situations for different contexts, dealing with misunderstandings in a calm way, and help them to find a common pathway when communicating and connecting with others. The compound ability that this strategy provides is the ultimate solution to the "issue," providing permanent solid results and future success. Everyone wants to help their children, and no one wants their child to be uncomfortable and not feel at home, no matter where thy go. Anderson closes out her article by pointing out that children's mental states are also so important and the relationships they form with other people are like "gold." As a parent, you know your child better than anyone and you know what they need to succeed. Hopefully, with a little help from professionals, you can help propel them forward into a world they can truly "see."

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