Seeing Beyond the Sight
Quick, what do you see? A girl, running away from a YMCA camp counselor during a rainstorm, screaming that she won’t listen. You probably see a brat; I see a girl with undiagnosed special needs. At least, now I do.
Typically, when working one-on-one with a child, a counselor knows what to expect. However, Sabrina, the girl with a pout and a pair of untrusting eyes, arrived with no label, and no one knew what to do with the “typical” girl who simply would not behave. Ironically, she became the responsibility of an actual Special Needs Integration Aide: me.
Building off of other people’s perceptions, I viewed her as a misguided child. It did not matter that I had grown up with an Autistic brother and worked with special needs children. I had been told she was “difficult” and watched her scream at adults relentlessly, which allowed my mind to ignore every signal indicating the underlying problem. It wasn’t until she ran off in a frenzy that I was able to make the connection. In just a moment, I knew she had special needs, not behavioral problems.
In Blink, Malcolm Gladwell discusses how forming an accurate opinion does not require endless information “in as many different contexts as possible” (20). On the contrary, seeing Sabrina in a new situation forced me to make another snap judgment, one that was based solely on what was right in front of me. Thin-slicing, or making rapid and accurate decisions based on limited information, greatly improved the precision of my perception. I was unknowingly dissecting every moment, like a camera cutting between images in a movie. Flash. Inability to make eye contact. Flash. Pursuing her obsession regardless of consequences. Flash. The movement of her hands, reminding me of a tic. Had I not been in a vulnerable, fear-stricken state, I probably would not have been receptive to the unconscious deductions I made, all in a moment.
This memory unequivocally reflects the power of thin-slicing. Yet, this phenomenon occurs constantly, and that we must be aware of its presence so that we can make accurate judgments on a regular basis. Regardless of the scale of the moment, we need to rely on this innate sense to distinguish between perception and reality; between someone in need, and just another whining child.