Understanding Context Blindness

If your partner or loved one has “ASD”, are you familiar with “context blindness?” 

Context blindness is something that happens to people with “Asperger Syndrome”. For most people, context is a natural part of life. Everything is relative and depends on the context. For someone with “Asperger’s”, life is absolute – especially in regard to social interaction. Context blindness hinders an individual from being sensitive and aware of the feelings of others. You can also read an older post I wrote about “Mind Blindness and the Disconnect in Asperger Syndrome Relationships”.

Dr. Peter Vermeulen discusses context blindness is his book, “Autism as Context Blindness”. He brilliantly describes how the autistic brain works and includes practical exercises to help improve in the area of context blindness.

I found a good summary of his book on www.autism.net and I’d like to share it below:


“Context Blindness is a theory developed by Dr. Peter Vermeulen, a psychologist and the co-director of the Center for Concrete Communication in Belgium.

“The human brain is very sensitive to context and this contextual sensitivity plays a crucial role in many cognitive abilities that are affected in ASD, such as face perception, emotion recognition, the understanding of language and communication, and problem solving. Context refers to the circumstances or events that form the environment within which something exists or takes place. Context reveals and directs our perception and therefore influences and directs our response.

“For example, there is no one correct answer to any of these questions:

What is the polite way to greet someone?

What is a good birthday gift for a friend?

What does a woman feel when you smile at her?

Can you touch someone’s hair?

What is the ideal distance between you and another person?

What would you tell someone about yourself?

“It all depends on the context. Contextual sensitivity works at a subconscious level to: help us focus on the essential; make the world around us more predictable; and help us to find the right meaning in vague situations when multiple meanings are possible.”


Is your “Aspie’s” behavior starting to make more sense now?

Neurotypicals still have to find ways to cope with the abusiveness and cluelessness of their “Aspie” loved ones, but I do think the theory of Context Blindness helps in this regard.

First, just understanding better how your “Aspie” thinks, or better said what is missing from their thinking, is tremendously helpful. It is far worse to stand there dumbfounded by the craziness.

Second, Context Blindness is a step in the right direction for finding solutions for “Aspies”. They may not be able to rewire those parts of the brain that contributes to organising the social context of life, but they can learn to be less defensive. It’s vital to reduce anxiety and defensiveness if an NT/”AS” couple stands a ghost of a chance.

Third, with understanding comes the ability to drop the NT’s defensiveness and guilt and myriad other co-dependent behaviors. It’s easier to detach from the anger, hurt and blame, when you realize that it is not your fault. When you learn that there really is very little you can do about the problem . . . well that’s a kind of freedom, don’t you think?

How can you tell if you’re co-dependent on your “Aspie”? I wrote a blog post to guide you to your own answer. Ask yourself a few questions and answer truthfully. You can find the blog post here.

Context Blindness is one of the many themes we discuss through video conferences and free teleconferences (soon podcasts too) in our private group, “Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD.” This group has been created from a need of our community to gather in a safe and private place to discuss our daily difficulties and problems. If you are a partner or have a loved one suffering from “Asperger Syndrome”, I invite you to join our community. Visit our group to see how our home looks.

18 Replies to “Understanding Context Blindness”

  1. Walking on eggs is the norm ,as perceptions becomes a must, so a victimized personality develops and there is necessary, to fight or flight.

  2. Re context blindness; l see why my husband constantly gets things mixed up.Even having his tires changed can be fraught with difficulty and l have to call back the garage. He can not join the dots that we need the winter tires on now. He leaves the appointment so late that l have to intervene. l can not trust him to do what is necessary ie check that all 4 tires are the same size. Part of the not being able to read the context of the situation is that the executive functioning skills are not there to assimilate all the nuances of the situation. It is an ongoing battle where l have to be constantly checking simple everyday things that you and l take for granted. ASPIEs claim it is just a different way of thinking; no , if someone is deaf or is blind we realize that they have a disability and they learn skills to cope with that to get along in the world. With Aspies especially if they do not recognize the disability they will.never develop skills to get along in the relationship or to make it less one sided. It is similar to bipolar individuals not understanding or appreciating that they are bipolar and believe they can go off their medication. No even going out for dinner is fraught with difficulty he can not read the context of the situation- it is a celebration and he should order more than a hamburger. He should order a bottle of wine to share with our friends,we might have an appetizer first. Then he gets up in the middle of dinner to visit the loo. My husband is an academic he is brilliant and very funny.His way of existing is to tell constant jokes, so much that he can’t engage in conversation and no one else can either.Yes l have learned to be either silent and accepting or go out by myself as it is too stressful to be with him. Don’t get me wrong we can and do have fun together on our own but it is a lot of work living with an Aspie and one gets no support from anyone else .l am sure that is why a group situation or counselling such as yours for the NT is so needed. NT s are very much alone in dealing with an ASD spouse. Most family members dont get it nor do friends. Living it 24/7 is exhausting and can be spirit destroying.

    1. Some helpful comments here for me Sharon. Thank you for sharing in detail. It has made a huge difference to me now that my aspie can see he is on the spectrum. Not that everything changed but it just helps. He is trying to be more sensitive towards me.

    2. And if I tried to explain it to him this way, he would miss the context of situational examples, and claim he is not ASD because those exact examples don’t apply to him with every single detail. Sigh…

    3. I agree that no one supports me. They just make excuses for him because he is so nice. It is defintely exhausting and spirit destroying. Working with Dr. Kathy is a necessity for us.

  3. Yes, I was really enlightened mostly by Vermeulen’s overall description of the filtering human brains do (and within milliseconds!) to make meaning of all we perceive. My ASH told me that a major burden was not being able to easily filter out what’s unimportant, like not being able to really hear anyone when he was feeling the label on his shirt back. So it kinda explained all the sensory effects of autism as well as the relationship effects.

  4. I cannot even begin to tell you how much your articles have helped to have a better understanding of the condition. What previously haven’t made sense is now making perfect sense. One thing I really appreciate about my husband is that he is very consciences. He always picked the children up in time and mercifully arrived at the right place! However, having a conversation with him can be very frustrating because he simply cannot see the context in a situation, or we find ourselves on two different topics! For example his “thing” is health and diet, thus if he reads that sugar is bad for he will not touch sugar again. He is not able to see that small amounts of sugar mixed with a slow releasing carbohydrate won’t harm you. He read that fructose is bad for you, now he is not eating fruit! I have stopped trying to explain to him because it really becomes emotionally draining.It is like running into a brick wall over and over again. I have learned to just agree with him and let things go no matter how warped it is. The thing that really gets me down in the relationship is that I simply can’t get him to do little things for me. I have stopped asking. If it doesn’t serve his purpose I can forget it no matter how much I plead or ask. However life carries on and I am so thankful that I have found a community that is in the same boat and understand, because frankly people out there is totally clueless about the condition and always have the “most wonderful” advice. Needless to say………..

    1. For 20 years, my Aspie ate like an anorectic woman, until he develped Orthorexia. This starts with the deluded belief that every aspect of our health, from what diseases we get, even our emotions, can be controlled by the quality of the food we consume. Paradoxically, once the illness progresses, health being the very thing that the sufferer seeks, becomes the thing that gets compromised. Now he has both severe osteoporosis and anemia. Lost 2-1/2″ of height and dangerously low hematocrit. Sadly, he became enraged with me for pointing out that both his rituals and his meltdowns are classic Aspergers. An arrogant man who prefers to live out his life untreated and undiagonosed.

  5. My spouse can “listen” to something I say and then correct my pronunciation of my words or need to clarify the minute details of where, when, instead of gathering the gist of my experience. If I mis-speak that something happened on Wednesday, but he knows it happened on Thursday, he misses the whole content of what I’m saying until he gets me to verify that I have my days switched up. He told me that he thinks in terms of maps (roads and locations).

    1. Great examples of context blindness. I think of the “Aspie” mind as a large pile of jig saw puzzle pieces. You know how it is with one of these puzzles? First clear the table so you have enough space to work. Always place the puzzle box cover near by so that you can Then you organize the pieces according to theme elements. Perhaps by color, or a black line, or a certain flower. Then you start trying out pieces to see if they fit together. It matters not where you start on the puzzle because eventually it all fits together. But for “Aspies” It doesn’t seem to matter if they finish the puzzle. They just find a couple of pieces that fit together and offer it to us as if this makes sense. Once they dispense with us, the sweep the puzzle pieces back in the box and leave the room.

  6. I read Dr. Vermuelen’s book and it was very helpful. I did help to explain how my brother’s mind actually works. It was quite eye-opening and I wish we had had this information much earlier in our lives (he is 68). There has been a lot of emotional damage and unhealthy ways of coping that have developed over the years, but it is good to at least have some insight!

  7. The Problem:
    Once you start ignoring your spouse, not communicating, caring; you start going down the rabbit hole of leading separate lives. We have awareness and thanks for the pin pointing the source. We need tips, or advice on how to deal with the situation.

  8. Thank you very much. I just learned my spouse has Asperger’s and my life makes more sense. I’m hoping it will help me be more patient while also learning how to care for myself.

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