Dude’s Theory of Mind

Back story #1

One of the areas that kids on the spectrum may** struggle with is theory of mind. This principle is described as the ability to attribute mental states (beliefs, intents, knowledge) to yourself and to recognize and understand that other individuals have beliefs, intents, and knowledge that may be different from you own.

For example, say I’m watching a sitcom on TV with a friend. I’m laughing at the jokes and am engaged with the program. However, I notice that my friend isn’t laughing, and she’s flipping through her phone instead of watching TV. I am easily able to put two and two together and figure out that she’s bored. I may offer to change the channel.

Individuals with ASD aren’t always as adept at this skill. They may get on a topic that they LOVE to discuss and be completely ignorant of the fact that you have no interest in discussing Pokemon for twenty straight minutes.

Similarly, you may try to non-verbally convey an idea or action to a person with ASD using your body language and facial expressions and they simply don’t get it. They don’t understand your mental state or intent, so they fail to follow through with what you would like them to do.

**I try very hard not to generalize here. The strengths and challenges of people with ASD are varied. Not everyone on spectrum universally struggles with one thing and not everyone is universally great at one thing.

That being said, theory of mind is not one of Dude’s strong suits. He doesn’t understand that you need to stand up to get out of people’s way when they’re trying to get to their seats further down the aisle. He doesn’t react to the hint of annoyance in our voices when he has asked, “What’s in the wash?” for the hundredth time in five minutes.

Dude-ism #127

Over the weekend, I was eating dinner with my family at their house.

Dude has a habit of sitting too far back from the kitchen table. Because he’s so slow at eating, this often results in food getting dropped on his lap, which he really, really dislikes.

I was biting into my pizza as I saw Dude, sitting across from me, pick up his. I frowned as I noted how far away he was from the table.

Because my mouth was full, I couldn’t tell him to scootch forward. Instead, I raised up my hand and waved my fingers toward me (kind of like kung-fu fighters do in movies while instigating a fight).

Dude immediately set his pizza back down, scootched his seat towards the table, and said, “Closeeeer!” in his sing-songy voice.

 

And THAT is why I sometimes go on rants about the dangers of assuming that individuals with ASD eventually plateau and stop learning. (You can read such items here and here.) ‘Cause they don’t. At all.

 

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