Replacing "Theory of Mind" with More Accurate and Compassionate Ideas About Autism
Ariane Zurcher goes beyond rejecting Simon Baron-Cohen's bigoted ideas about autism and "theory of mind." She explains with brilliant simplicity two insights that should replace them.
1) Autistic people communicate differently, and that impacts almost everything we do.
Zurcher describes the infamous "Sally-Anne" test, then explore the fallacies in the conclusions SBC draws from it:
From the test results Simon Baron-Cohen concluded "that the core problem in autism is the inability to think about other people or one's own thoughts" according to the blog, holah.co.uk. Except that his test did not take into consideration the challenges many autistic children have in sequencing, language problems, misunderstandings of prepositions, the level of anxiety or stress levels of the autistic participants at the time of testing. Nor did it take into account literal thinking, something many autists have, all of which made the test and the questions asked that much more challenging.
My 10-year-old autistic daughter, Emma, when asked what her doll's name is, will reply, "Doll" or "Girl." This is just one example of Emma's literal mind at work. She is not wrong -- her doll is a doll and yes, the doll is a representation of a girl. If I say to Emma while she is in the shower, "Em, wash the soap off," she will take the bar of soap and hold it under the water, even though what I meant was she should wash the soap off her body -- she understood my request literally. Was she wrong? No. To draw some other conclusion from her answers would be. When the child, during the Sally-Anne test, was asked, "Where will Sally look for her marble?" a literal-minded thinker, who also has trouble with prepositions would have difficulty arriving at the "correct" answer.
2) Many autistic people often experience overwhelming emotions or sensations that can cause us to appear to be disconnected:
When Emma was diagnosed I came upon the "Theory of Mind" paper early in my research. At the time I thought this explained why, when any of us were upset, Emma seemed oblivious. But as I continued along the road of educating myself, coupled with observing my daughter, I began to question his theory. I read about autistics who avoided looking in people's eyes because it was too intense. One autist described it as akin to seeing into a person's soul. Others talked about how they could sense immediately upon entering a room the various occupants' emotional state and became so overwhelmed they would seek refuge in a corner, try to leave or would stim as a way to counter the intensity of what they were experiencing.
There are times when Emma will, with outstretched arm, put her hand out in front of her face like a shield. Often it is done when she's very happy and having a good time. I believe it is in response to the intensity of feelings, either hers or others or both. Or as Jessy Park, Clara Claiborne Park's autistic daughter, was quoted as saying, "It's too good."