Theory of Mind

Theory of Mind is Kind of Like a Funhouse Mirror

Theory of Mind is Kind of Like a Funhouse Mirror

The Theory of Mind is kind of like being inside a Funhouse with all the weird mirrors.  Have you ever been inside a Funhouse?  You know the ones, where you look 500 lbs heavier than you really are.  What if you walked around all day long looking at the world through a funhouse mirror?

Looking in the Funhouse Mirror

The concept behind Theory of the mind is that an autistic person is unable to recognize that other people in the world might see the world different than they see it.  Although an autistic person is not really egocentric, her or she probably inherently assumes that everyone thinks, feels, sees, and knows the same things he or she does.  The difficulty with this particular scenario is they do not see things the same way that we do.

The George Washington Affect – I cannot tell a lie

One of the interesting results of this theory of mind it that many autistic children don’t lie.  I dare say some may not be able to lie.  It isn’t really a good thing or a bad thing, it just is.  For the most part they don’t even consider lying as an option because they assume we all know the truth already.

For example, after I had lost a ton of weight and dressed up really nice to go to dinner with my husband, I made the mistake of asking my daughter with autism how I looked.  I should have known I was in trouble when she tilted her head to the side and really looked at me.  After a moment of thought, she said, “You look like a clown.  And … your butt is big.”

Yep, she sure did.  Now, the fact is that I don’t wear makeup that often, and my tooshie was showing a bit more in the little black dress than it usually did made it sting a little less.  However, she didn’t intend to be mean or hurt my feelings.  She just told me the answer to my question, and that was that.

The Secret

Along the same lines as not telling lies, my daughter cannot keep a secret either.  So then, if you tell her not to tell her brother something, she usually walks over to him and tell him, “Mommy said this thing and it is a secret.”  While it can be unnerving at times, it is really just a function of her amazing mind.  Now just to clarify, I don’t actually tell her secrets – I learned my lesson – but either way – it is a good thing for other to know that our kiddos are not being naughty – they are just being themselves.

Just the Facts Ma’am

So then, if we keep rocking along with the little Theory of Mind thing, you will also find my daughter getting very upset when you just don’t seem to know something that ‘everyone’ knows.  Many autistic children have a hard time understanding why people don’t know certain facts.  Therefore, If she knows it, then everyone else should too.

Asperger Syndrome and Difficult Moments

As a result, Theory of Mind deficits can oftentimes have a large impact on individuals with an autism spectrum diagnosis. In the book “Asperger Syndrome and Difficult Moments” by Brenda Smith Myles and Jack Southwick, the authors discuss some of the behaviors that are caused by theory of mind:

  • They have difficulty explaining their own behavior
  • Sometime they have difficulty understanding emotions
  • Difficulty predicting the behavior or emotions of others
  • Problems understanding the others point of view
  • Problems inferring the intentions of others
  • Lack of understanding that behavior impacts how others think and feel

Just Keep Swimming, Swimming, Swimming

Therefore, Theory of Mind, and other theories,  still need more research to be able to better understand this symptom of autism. Yet, the best teaching method is not that unlinke how you teach a neurotypical kiddos.  Just keep exposing them to social situations.  Continuous social interaction, along with role-playing and other games that require autistic children to see things from many angles, really helps them to understand how their actions affect others and to realize sometimes that the image in the funhouse mirror is a bit distorted.

In conclusion, as with many other struggles we have with our kiddos, the best thing to do is be patient with autistic individuals and be willing to explain your thought process to them.  Sound familiar?  Yep, sounds familiar to me too.  Essentially, treat them with the same patience you would treat anyone else with.  They will come around, or they won’t.  And well, is it really that terrible that they don’t lie?

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