Autism Aspergers Myths - The Theory of Mind
[More Theories & Myths]
The Theory of Mind is firmly established among autism professionals. Just as with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, I am concerned about the conclusions drawn from it.
"Theory of mind refers to the notion that many autistic individuals do not understand that other people have their own plans, thoughts, and points of view. Furthermore, it appears that they have difficulty understanding other people's beliefs, attitudes, and emotions.
Interestingly, people with autism have difficulty comprehending when others don't know something. It is quite common, especially for those with savant abilities, to become upset when asking a question of a person to which the person does not know the answer.
By not understanding that other people think differently than themselves, many autistic individuals may have problems relating socially and communicating to other people. That is, they may not be able to anticipate what others will say or do in various situations. In addition, they may have difficulty understanding that their peers or classmates even have thoughts and emotions, and may thus appear to be self-centered, eccentric, or uncaring.
The vital question which must be asked is: How does one teach individuals with autism to understand and acknowledge the thoughts and feelings of others?" (Citation from http://www.autism.com/index.php/understanding_theoryofmind)
If I can rewrite the above passage, it would be:
Autistic people see others as clones of themselves because they do not have a coherent, independent self that "separates" them from other people. Hence, they instinctively expect others to perceive, think, feel, sense and behave like them.
Even if their conscious mind understands the concept of different selves and could explain this concept, they will subconscious take for granted that other people are like them. Faced with a situation where others disagree with them, they cannot help but feel anger and frustration of the "irrationality" of other people. "Can't they see such an obvious truth?!" is a common retort.
The autistic self is fragmented - its body, emotions, will and intellect do not work together. Without a coherent sense of self, only the intellect can fully mature. The resulting autistic consciousness differs greatly from non-autistic consciousness, making it easy to develop misunderstandings.
Without a coherent self as the foundation, the concept of Personal History may not arise. Unable to learn from past experiences and use it to extrapolate the behavior, intentions and reactions of other people, the autistic finds it difficult to understand others. As the natural social and bodily instincts could not activate, the happenings of everyday life become stressful challenges that must be handled consciously by the intellect.
A coherent self provides the foundation for social instincts to function, and social instincts make it possible to have spontaneous, appropriate and enjoyable social behavior. The vital question is: How does one help autistics develop a coherent self so that their instincts can arise spontaneously?
I call this, "The Theory of Self".
The Theory of Mind implies that we should focus on external understanding of relationships rather than the inner development of self hood. I believe that this only treats the symptoms rather than the root cause.
Autistic children can learn social skills like a computer running a program. Following orders without understanding, relating feels like a burden rather than as a pleasure. Without instincts to guide them, they rely on habit and (limited) experience. As they could not master novel situations, they prefer to avoid them. Without the ability to enjoy what life brings them, they remain unhappy and frustrated with life.
I would like to contribute to a more complete understanding of autism. Perhaps someday, someone will find an effective way of helping autistics develop their instincts that people in Third World countries can afford. For now, I can only demonstrate this possibility by my own example.