|Awesome, irrelevant drawing by Allie Brosh, as usual|
This is my favorite topic to rant about, because it comes up for me so often.
Theory of Mind – The ability to attribute mental states—beliefs, intents, desires, pretending, knowledge, etc.—to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires and intentions that are different from one’s own…. In 1985 (a bunch of dudes) published research which suggested that children with autism do not employ a theory of mind, and suggested that children with autism have particular difficulties with tasks requiring the child to understand another person’s beliefs.
My child with autism has more empathy than your average adult. He may be stuck in his own head most of the time, but it’s not because he’s incapable of understanding that other people have beliefs and intentions that are different from his own, it’s because he’s stuck in his own head. But, when tested, which he was last year by our beloved Speech Therapist, who specifically assessed him on just this subject, he passed with flying colors. So, I call bullshit on the “kids with autism don’t have Theory of Mind” conclusion. In fact, my child with autism who isn’t supposed to possess any Theory of Mind is a lot more aware and concerned about other people’s feelings than a lot of non autistic adults that I know.
And what about your average adult? How much Theory of Mind do they possess? It seems like everywhere I go, people drive and park and act as though other people just don’t exist around them; that they’re the only ones in the world and they don’t even share space with other people. They walk right in front of you as if you’re not there, they don’t say excuse me when they bump into you, they don’t hear or see you when they’re blocking your path and you’re trying to get by. They steal parking spaces you’ve been waiting for, they cut in front of you in line without even looking back.
I am always very aware of things like that, where other people are in relation to where I’m standing, how my behavior might affect them, how my kids’ behavior might affect them. I often feel like I’m the only person left who even notices stuff like this, and I think “why do I bother?” Why should I take care not to ram somebody with my cart if I’m the only one in the store who does? Why do I do nice things for people for not even a “thank you” in return? It’s exhausting and sometimes I’m so tired that I just think fuck it, I can’t care about other people right now, I need to change lanes so I can get off the damn freeway! But then I wonder, is that what all these other people are thinking? I don’t want to be like them, and I don’t want my kids to be like them.
So, these things I will make sure to teach my kids, regardless of whatever neurological conditions they may have. Be aware that you share space in the world with other people. When somebody does something nice for you, you say thank you. I know way too many “grown ups” who apparently never learned these rules, and it’s my intention to make sure my kids don’t turn out like them.
About the Author: Jillsmo is the mother of two sons, one of whom has a diagnosis of autistic disorder. This piece first appeared on her blog, Yeah. Good Times., and is reprinted here by permission.