Autism as Context Blindness

I’ve been working as a psychologist for over 40 years now, and I’ve written countless blog articles about context blindness in people on the spectrum. I’ve also given numerous talks on this topic. I’ve mentioned it in two of my books too, Out of Mind—Out of Sight and When Empathy Fails. Now and again, there is a need to resurface this topic, because it explains so much of the behavior of our life partners, friends, and family with ASD.


What is Context Blindness?

Dr. Peter Vermeulen discusses context blindness is his book, Autism as Context Blindness. 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.”


How does Context Blindness affect your life?

For most people, context is a part of life. Everything is relative and depends on the context. For someone with “Asperger’s,” life is absolute – especially regarding social interaction. Neurotypicals still have to find ways to cope with the context blindness and resultant cluelessness of their ASD loved ones, but I do think the theory of Context Blindness helps in this regard. Understanding better how your partner thinks is tremendously helpful.


What can you do?

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. I wrote two blogs that can help you moving forward: The Art of Detachment – Essential for Asperger Relationships and How to Be the Real You.


Context Blindness is one of the many themes we discuss through video conferences and free teleconferences (soon podcasts too) in our MeetUp 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.

4 Replies to “Autism as Context Blindness”

  1. I am reading Peter Vermeulen’s book now and find it very well written and full of good examples. I particularly like that it is scholarly and well-documented with full footnotes. Very helpful in understanding the concepts.

  2. I love how his theory explains not only AS issues in social connections but also the sensory issues – not being able to filter OUT irrelevant perceptions, to filter IN what the situational “story” says we should be focusing on.
    Linda Boly first loaned me Vermeulen’s book quite a number of years ago, so a big thank you to her.
    I was able to explain both kinds of disconnection to my AS husband at the time with the concepts of “frames” (the narrative, the story) and “filters”.
    Then I discovered in our daughter’s Beginning Psychology textbook for PCC at the time that they now teach human perception in general as the Story/narrative is what humans perceive first, before any sensory perceptual “data” can get to our minds, as it’s filtered by the story. And Vermeulen points out NTs are just faster at fine tuning and correcting the story we first posit as an updated story seems to fit our perceptions better, while AS people’s slower processing may cause them to “stick” on their first guess or simply miss data as cues in the first place.

    1. Thank you Jeanne for the excellent summary. This author does a great job of ferreting out the elements that make ASD such a complex disability.

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