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Anyhow I wanted to write about Theory of Mind today. Theory of Mind describes the skill to decipher what other people are thinking. Since that sounds awfully cerebral, lets go into you a Theory of Mind experiment for young children:
the child is shown two dolls/humanoid figures by the experimenter, in this makebelieve world of the dolls both are in the same room when one of the dolls hides an item somewhere, then one of the dolls leave the room while the other get hold of the hidden object and hides it somewhere else. Now the absent doll comes back. End of the fairy tale.
Now the child is asked where the returning doll will look for the hidden item. The child knows about the new hiding place. Very young children will always say the returning doll will look where the toy is hidden. Later children develop an understanding that while the child itself saw the process of rehiding the item the doll who left the room did not, hence it would still look for the item in the first hiding place. Thus the child starts to differentiate between what the child knows and what other people know and can predict behaviour depending on that difference of knowledge.
Now some autistic children apparently fail the Theory of Mind test much longer than children who are not on the autistic spectrum. Thus the research team around Simon Baron-Cohen assumed our Theory of Mind is broken altogether and causes our Autism. If you think that assumption bold and sort of out of nowhere I quite agree.
Other people have been devoting their time to describe why this kind of thinking is rather obviously flawed. So I will not repeat the points. If you are interested in details look here:
I want to dive deeper into why this kind of thinking is painstakingly terribly wrong. You know how everyone describes autistic behaviour as puzzling? How autistic people seem to be out of touch? Well the funny thing is I am autistic, I never really felt that way among autistic people. I am a fluent speaker of aspie. And all the other aspies and auties i have met online are as well. Among us we do not have any more problems with Theory of Mind than Neurotypical people seem to have among them. Autistic people are not puzzling to me.
The reason why I think autistic people have such a hard time putting themselves into the shoes of neurotypical people is already hidden in the word neurotypical. We are fundamentally neurologically different. Autism is a pervasive condition, affecting many aspects of a person. We focus on different things, our entire sensory system works different and the way we analyse the incoming data is different too. This is more fundamental than only coming from a different cultural background complete with a different native language because while you can learn a new language you can not rewire your entire brain. Even now that I learned neurotypical well enough to sometimes understand NTs better than they themselves do I still don’t have the same wiring. So communication is still broken and we both struggle with the Theory of Mind of the others.
So my stance is not Autistic people are exclusively mindblind to all others but rather all people are mindblind to people who have a significantly different neurology. I have already scratched the surface of this with my blog on the crazed professors. Meet someone far away from your own IQ and you are mindblind. In fact I sometimes wonder if this issue doesn’t blend into our ability to consider how different experiences shape people differently. That would explain some of the famed pointlessness of youtube debates. No one seems to consider where the other person is coming from and tada we have a shining example of low social skills. I am very convinced that not all commenters are autistic.
In looking for what is broken in us, treating us as if all of us have the intelligence of the average boiled potato, describing us as puzzling, sending us to dehumanising therapies to make us appear more normal and looking for a cure (exemplary list, not all examples included, by far) Neurotypicals are tying very very hard to blame ALL of the problems in communication on us. And I always think: if your Theory of Mind is so spotless, why do you not understand me? If your empathy is so active why can’t you see how much pain you inflict upon me by treating me as if part of my personality needs to be eradicated? And now the fun part starts, I have an answer why NTs might not see what they are doing is wrong but that shall wait for another post