Link June 2018 Volume 27 Issue 3 - Page 8

news in the news Autism as context blindness U nderstanding autism as context blindness is the cornerstone of an autism- friendly approach, according to international autism expert Dr Peter Vermeulen. Dr Peter Vermeulen (centre) with Dr Jenny Karavolos from Autism SA and Julian Jaensch from Company AT. Dr Vermeulen visited Australia recently as a guest of Autism SA and a street and the sign displays ‘don’t “Nothing has an absolute the Autism Association of Western walk’. In Raymond’s mind, it means meaning, everything depends on Australia. only one thing, ‘don’t walk’. The sign context. The non-autistic brain changes from ‘walk’ to ‘don’t walk’ becomes an expert in using context 2018 Autism Conference Series, and Raymond stops in the middle of for making quick and smart guesses. Happiness, Neuroharmony and The the intersection, but to a context- Predictive Mind, Dr Vermeulen said blind brain this is what the stimulus the autistic brain, the world can research into the role of context in tells him to do. be very confusing, frustrating and In presenting Autism SA’s human information processing has threatening. revealed that contextual sensitivity is front doorbell rings, a mother tells “What a confusing world, where crucial in areas known to be affected her seven-year-old boy with autism a red traffic light sometimes means in autism like social interaction, to open the door. He opens the back ‘stop’ and sometimes ‘don’t stop’, communication, responses to door instead of the front door. His where a facial expression could sensory environment and flexibility in reaction was logical, but his choice of mean many different things, or where thoughts and behaviours. door was out of context.” sometimes there is dessert after a “Context blindness refers to a Dr Vermeulen, who has 30 years’ meal and sometimes there isn’t. reduced spontaneous use of context experience in the field of autism, when giving meaning to a stimulus,” said using concrete communication nothing more than normal, human he said. clarifies the context that people responses to a world full of ambiguity with autism cannot imagine or see and uncertainty. “To put it more simply: the autistic brain thinks in an absolute way, rather than a relative, contextually defined way. “For example, in the movie Rainman, Raymond is trying to cross 8 “In another example, when the “But for an absolute brain like news spontaneously. “We don’t know how the brain “Autistic behaviours are actually “Autism as context blindness is the reduced ability to use the context uses context, but we do know the spontaneously in giving meaning to brain does it spontaneously and very, vague, ambiguous, new and abstract very fast,” he said. stimuli.”