Whether at Church or at a Supermarket

How you behave in church is different from how you behave in school.

My intern, Alicia Guerreiro has researched and found interesting articles on aspects of language which I focus on when working with high functioning clients on the autism spectrum. Although this article focuses on context with regard to social interaction, understanding the impact of context is not just limited to personal social exchanges, but also impacts all areas of communication including written language.

A well-known characteristic of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is difficulties with social interactions. Peter Vermeulen, Ph.D., a senior lecturer at Autisme Centraal in Gent, Belgium reports that ‘context blindness’ rather than ‘mind blindness’ may be the cause of such difficulties. Typically social interaction deficits have been linked to brain physiology, and the inability to see things from another perspective, Theory of the Mind. These deficits have been referred to as ‘mind blindness’. Vermeulen points out that research backing these claims is years old and focuses on young autistic participants with fewer cognitive abilities.

There is an idea of ‘context sensitivity’, which allows typically developing people to adjust to stimuli and contexts as they change over time. It is what allows us to know how to act in certain environments and not in others, what is appropriate to say to who, or something as simple as what is an appropriate gift to get someone for their birthday. It is a pertinent skill for adapting to each new environment.

Often people with AS perform quite well on tests, specifically in the lab setting, but not so well in real life situations. Recent studies have revealed high functioning adults with Asperger Syndrome (AS) have higher cognitive abilities than once thought.  Higher cognitive abilities, test performance in the lab that does not accurately reflect true abilities, and outdated research indicates a shift in thinking may be needed to understand the dissonance in test taking and real life situations. Vermeulen speculates the missing piece is context and he has coined the term “Context blindness” which refers to a reduced spontaneous use of context when giving meaning to a stimulus. To put it more simply: the autistic brain thinks in an absolute way, rather than a relative, contextually defined way.”


Vermeulen, P. (2011, November). A division of Future Horizons, Inc. Retrieved February 10, 2015, from http://autismdigest.com/context-blindness/   http://foa.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/04/11/1088357614528799.abstract

Book by Peter Vermeulen


Published by Kai Long

Kai currently lives in MA and is interested in collaborating with others to develop a deeper understanding of our speech and language needs.