On “Social Blindness”

Sarah Seymour


Two Facebook friends who I am blessed to know (and who happen to be on the autism spectrum) made the following comments:

“[Simon] Baron-Cohen says autistics are ‘mind (socially) blind” … but… who is blind?… according to Temple Grandin, neurotypicals are “sensory blind”… seems we are all pretty blind… but at least many of us autists are making great efforts to see outside ourselves… how many of you neuro…typicals can claim to match our efforts????”

“I agree. 🙂 See more in the article Q&A: Temple Grandin on Autism & Language on NPR. Autistic people can be isolated, Temple Grandin says, not only because they have difficulty making a connection with so-called “normal” people, but because normal people find it difficult to put themselves in an autistic person’s shoes and see the world from their perspective.”

I thought the differences they pointed out were so interesting. Having a social impairment is one of the three requirements for a diagnosis of autism. But “social blindness” is an intriguing term, and refers to autism innacurately in my opinion — because autism is by definition a spectrum disorder. Some people with autism cannot read or discern facial expressions, but others can. Some can read voice tone and intonation while others are mystified.

And I know some neurotypicals (NTs) who could be considered “socially blind,” to a degree. Perhaps I myself am — I often say the wrong thing at the wrong time. Not just small social errors, but glaring blunders and “I can’t believe she said that to the boss” office legend errors. I sometimes don’t know when to keep a secret or to share. I am a bit naive. I can’t read sarcasm in people’s voices even though I dish it out with a heavy hand myself.

So, I wonder at comparing people sometimes. It can be like comparing apples and oranges. My brain is wired differently from my daughter’s. The fact that we share social challenges may have to do with  autism — or not. It may be coincidence.

No one can deny how hard it is is for a person on the spectrum to play by the silly social rules they didn’t write. But perhaps we should stop looking for conformity, and start looking for middle ground and understanding. (Though I do not wish to digress into my usual spiel. Go Acceptance! There, I am done.)

People with autism should not have to explain why they are the way they are any more than they should have to explain their skin color, or hair color. The same goes for being NT. We need to accept each other. I realize for many this will not be easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is.

I know that we are not going to change the world overnight, but the 1 in 150 children now on the spectrum will be 1 in 150 adults in 25 years. That will affect the world in all sorts of ways, including the business world. I am hoping the work we do now breaks ground for those future adults, because all people deserve respect and to be able to be themselves.