Neurotypicals are Mindblind Too! (If anyone is)

Mindblind” is the phrase coined by Simon Baron-Cohen to describe how autistic people view the world. The Wikipedia entry I think does a fair job of exploring the origins of the theory and the many, many, many critiques. For many autistic people, it in no way describes their lived reality, to which pro-mindblind folks reply, “Well, you’re not like our children.” 

“Mindblind” raises so many deep issues, not the least related to the idea that autistic people just don’t get or don’t feel emotion. It’s othering and dehumanizing and has long been critiqued by both autistic and non-autistic writers and researchers. Here’s a new approach.

A new article in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology (aside: I hate that name. Psychology, you have a lot to answer for!) turned the “mindblind” methodology on neurotypicals.

Basically, there are studies showing that some autistic people cannot accurately determine the emotions being felt by neurotypicals by watching them move. These researchers tested neurotypicals and found that they cannot determine the emotions being felt by autistic people by watching them move, either.

This is about diversity and the challenges to understanding each other across the neurodiversity spectrum. It’s a real issue. It is NOT a deficit specific to autistic people.

VisualVox, one of my favorite new follows on Twitter, also wrote a blog post about the study in which they highlighted key parts of the abstract:

Therefore, “social impairments” exhibited by individuals with ASD may, at least in part, represent a failure by typical individuals to infer the correct mental states from the movements of those with ASD. To examine this possibility, individuals with ASD and typical adults manually directed 2 triangles to generate animations depicting mental state interactions. Kinematic analysis of the generated animations demonstrated that the participants with ASD moved atypically, specifically with increased jerk compared to the typical participants. In confirmation of our primary hypothesis, typical individuals were better able to identify the mental state portrayed in the animations produced by typical, relative to autistic, individuals.

Communication is complicated. We all have plenty of work to do.

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