Professor Andrew McDonnell reviews recent publication by Studio 3 associate Peter Vermeulen, Autism and the Predictive Brain: Absolute Thinking in a Relative World (2022).
Peter Vermeulen is a world-renowned expert in understanding the thinking processes that help people to develop insights into autism. He has written a vast array of books on the topic, which focus on attempting to understand how people think and feel by trying to see the world from their perspective. Peter’s work has been instrumental in understanding the autistic brain, and has informed practice across the globe.
In his book ‘Autism as Context Blindness’ (2012), Peter noted that autistic individuals were often trying to make sense of a world that appeared to them to be ‘chaotic and confusing.’ In these situations, there is a strong desire for individuals to seek out predictability and ‘an oasis of calm.’ Whilst these behaviours have been largely misunderstood by society, Peter’s work has shed light on the neurological mechanisms underpinning the stress and sensory overload often experienced by autistic people on a day-to-day basis.
As a practitioner, his interests are also reflected in practical approaches to supporting individuals in light of what we know about the predictive brain and context blindness. This book, ‘Autism and the Predictive Brain: Absolute Thinking in a Relative World,’ uses established, innovative research about the human brain and relates it to real-world experiences. As Peter states, the brain is a not a passive recipient of information, but an active processor as well:
‘Although we feel that our brain is an organ that reacts to what happens in the outside world, that is not the case. In reality, the brain predicts what it thinks is going to happen in the world, so that we can better react to events when they occur.’
Understanding the workings of the predictive brain is, I believe, a crucial factor in empathising with the ‘autistic experience,’ and enabling the best possible support and interventions for individuals struggling in a world that is often a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) place.
In this book, Peter applies his wealth of knowledge to focus on areas that range from navigating the social landscape to providing insights into sensory issues. If you are a person who wants to learn more about neurological processing and how it relates to autism and the autistic experience, this book will undoubtedly assist you in explaining why people sometimes see the world differently. My colleague Damian Milton often refers to a ‘double empathy’ problem, whereby people sometimes struggle to empathise with the autistic experience of the world (Milton, 2012). Peter Vermeulen’s work encourages empathic understanding within a logical, scientific framework, and has aided understanding and influenced practice for individuals throughout my organisation and across the globe.
The book is intended for a broad audience of individuals, and I would highly recommend it to anyone whose is interested in the neurological processes of the autistic brain:
‘Most people with autism, as well as the parents of autistic children, teachers, therapists, helpers, carers and autism-coaches, have never even heard of the theory of the predictive mind and know nothing about what it can mean for our understanding of autism. It is for these people that this book is intended.’
In summary, I whole heartedly recommend this book as it provides another step towards demystifying autism, and helping us as practitioners, family members, and friends to better support the autistic community to thrive.
Professor Andrew McDonnell
Clinical Psychologist & CEO, Studio 3
Peter's book is available to buy now: https://www.routledge.com/Autism-and-The-Predictive-Brain-Absolute-Thinking-in-a-Relative-World/Vermeulen/p/book/9781032358970
Milton, D. E. (2012). On the Ontological Status of Autism: The ‘Double Empathy Problem’. Disability & Society, 27(6), 883-887.
Vermeulen, P. (2022). Autism and The Predictive Brain: Absolute Thinking in a Relative World. Oxfordshire: Taylor & Francis.
Vermeulen, P. (2012). Autism as Context Blindness. Shawnee, KS: AAPC Publishing.