Why Autistic People Can’t “See” What’s Right in Front of Us

Silhouette of a man standing next to a huge rock with his hands on the air in victory with text that reads, "Boulder? What boulder? Why we can't "see" what's right in front of us".

Does the autistic person in your life seem to have trouble seeing what’s right in front of them?

Like, the trash that needs to be taken out, the laundry that needs folding, the bucket of soapy water on the kitchen floor that they just accidentally stepped in?

A few posts back, someone made a comment about how their spouse appears to purposefully ignore household responsibilities, and someone else commented about why that is, and I wanted to turn it into a post.

See, autistic people really and truly can miss what’s right in front of us. We can even STEP over said obstacle and keep going and have no idea it’s there!

I’m not clear on why this happens, all I can say is that objects very quickly become ‘background noise’ to us. We only partially process them, and, the longer they stay in one place, the more they become part of the scenery, so to speak.

– Jaime A. Heidel

So, if you’re trying to hint to your autistic teenager, for example, that he needs to put the laundry away, putting it on the stairs so he’ll practically have to step on it will NOT make it any clearer to him that you want him to put his clothes away.

The laundry basket will stay there because it will blend into the background. It becomes part of the topography like the wall or the stairs, and it will eventually not register at all.

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The best way to improve communication with your autistic loved one is to understand how your autistic loved one’s mind works! Intentions, motivations, and personal expressions (facial expressions or lack thereof, body language, etc.), are often quite different in autistic people than they are in neurotypical people.

Experience a better understanding of your autistic loved one by reading books about life from an autistic perspective as well as stories that feature autistic characters. You’ll have so many “Ah ha!” moments and start seeing your autistic loved one in a different light (and you’ll have a better understanding of their behaviors, which you may have been misinterpreting up until now).

Books I recommend for a better understanding of your autistic loved one:

Now, if you take the basket away, we may pause a second and realize something about the topography has changed, and things don’t look the same, and it might even be a bit unnerving at first, but we will adjust, and this will become the new normal.

We won’t know what’s missing, just that something is “off”, but it passes.

This goes for buildings, landmarks, homes, parks, malls, etc. For example, the only time I notice a building while driving down a familiar road is AFTER it’s been torn down, and there’s a hole in the landscape, but I couldn’t tell you under pain of death what used to be there, just that something is “off” and making me feel unsettled and a bit lost for a second.

So, yeah, many of can walk around a boulder and not actually see it if we walk past it all the time. I think our brains are constantly trying to achieve homeostasis, and this “blending” is one way we subconsciously do it (maybe to reduce sensory input and avoid overload?)

However, there are some autistic people who notice EVERY little detail.

Does your autistic loved one appear to ignore you? It’s not purposeful to hurt you. Click on the link below to understand what’s really happening and how to have more effective communication.

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2 Responses

  1. May 27, 2020

    […] 2) I get VERY focused on tasks. Once focused, it’s very hard for me to switch focus, which may mean I’ll run smack into you walking from one room to the next with a sponge in my hand because you’ll cease to register in my brain. […]

  2. June 2, 2020

    […] Why Your Autistic Loved One May Prefer to Do Housework Alone – The Articulate Autistic on Why Autistic People Can’t “See” What’s Right in Front of Us […]

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