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Mindblindness: The Case of the Missing Filter

30 Sep

Mindblindness is a term that Simon Baron-Cohen has used for years. Baron-Cohen coined this term to describe the difficulties individuals on the spectrum have with guessing, predicting, and inferring the thoughts and actions of others. To tell you the truth, I don’t even know how I do “it”, where “it” came from, or when I’m doing “it”. Perspective taking is like breathing — I take it for granted until I really think about it, then I assume control over it for a split second, only to somehow lose conscious control again in a few short seconds.

When I was asked today how to teach “it”, I was silenced. How do you teach something you never really had to “learn” or “practice” to do? Yes, there are ways to dissect the skill into its nonverbal and verbal communicative components, looking for changes in tone, the height of the eyebrow, the size of the smile, but, at the end of the day, those are small sprinkles of sugar. Only when they completely come together do they make a sugar cookie.

Maybe I am alone, but most of the time, I give little thought to how I feel and what I actually show — are those messages congruent or discordant? Did I purposely make them so in order to fool another or to protect myself? I acknowledge giving more thought to what I think and what I actually say, as my big mouth has a tendency to get me in trouble.

I’ve “learned”. But, wait, haven’t many, many parents approached me asking for a “filter” for their child? Duct tape is obviously out of the question, so a filter must be the next humane choice (sarcasm). When and why did I develop a filter, and why can’t I help others construct one? I could point back to a very formative time in my life when I retaliated on a the neighborhood bully. My parents had just planted a new tree, and he came along and RIPPED a new limb right off. My parents were upset, and I sensed a chance to repay him for the grief he had put upon the downtrodden of the street. What did I do? Well, I walked down to his house, picked up his Playskool basketball hoop, and tossed it through his front window. Of course, that is not the end off the story. His parents and my parents had a bit of a pow-wow, and we were both told to apologize. Inside, I knew my mom was proud of me, so, when it was my turn, I said, “I’m sorry……not”. Well, you might imagine that stirred the pot up again. Later that night, I remember my mom saying, “All you had to do was fake it. Why couldn’t you just do that?”(And, I’m supposedly NT!)

I couldn’t do it because I truly wasn’t sorry and I hadn’t learned the social value of faking an apology to expedite a situation that, truthfully, was meaningless. But, even then, I knew better — meaning I had developed the ability to mind-read but was simply setting it aside due to immaturity. I set “it” aside less these days, now that I call myself an adult, but I’m still not sure that leaves me in a position to foster it in others.

So, for now, I’m left trying to find those seminal moments for clients. Moments when they figuratively (or literally) break a window, in hopes that I can help them recognize they aren’t as mindblind as we might all want to think. But, perhaps, I’m being mindblind in thinking that.

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