I am not positive that theory of mind is the right term to describe what I am going to describe, but I will use it anyway. You get the picture.
They call it theory of mind, to use the technical term - many people posit that people with autism have a "theory of mind" deficit, which means the inability to understand what the other person is thinking or feeling; or that other people have different perspectives from you at all.
Young kids with autism often are not aware that other people have feelings that are different from theirs, that anyone could possibly see the world in a manner different from them. When you grow up and get older, you (usually) begin to realize that yes, people think in very different ways. And that you need to be aware that people think in different ways, and try to figure out what those ways are, in order to communicate with them. And like I said, you can use logical deduction to figure out what these ways are, but it's an awfully crude method.
I read a lot of books when I was a kid. I mean, I read probably five books a week. First kids' books like the "Babysitter Club" books, but I graduated to adult books pretty quickly. I read mostly mysteries, since that's what my mom read, but I read really anything I could get my hands on. I was addicted to the Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Sometimes, I think the only way I learned about human relationships and how to interact with others was from all that reading I did.
An example of a theory of mind deficit that I remember from my own childhood occurred when I was in elementary school. We were going around in a circle, and everyone was supposed to tell a secret about themselves. When it was my turn, I said very shyly, thinking I was revealing a big secret, "I like cats." The whole class burst out laughing. "We already knew that," they gently chided. Of course they knew that. I was obsessed with cats. I talked about them all the time. I talked about nothing but cats. I had calendars, cat themed books, cat magazines, and cat figurines. It was probably the most obvious thing about me. But I had so little self-awareness, or rather, so little awareness of how other people saw me, of how they perceived me, that I literally, at that time in my life, had no idea they knew I liked cats. I really thought it was a secret! I was so embarrassed.
That little slip-up, as minor as it seems, was emblematic of communications problems I've had all my life. I simply can't understand when other people understand me. I have very little sense of how people perceive me. On the one hand, you could say it's kind of freeing; I don't feel bound by social norms that others often find so constricting. On the other hand, not having this understanding means there's a persistent space between me and everyone I interact with. I feel like I am missing half of the available information. It makes me feel lonely, frustrated, and occasionally, filled with despair, because I feel as if I will never be able to connect with people.
One time in college, I walked into a college dorm room; some people I knew were having a get-together and watching a movie. I walked in without saying anything. "Kate, relax," said a girl I knew, "You don't have to be so nervous." I was astounded. How did she know I was nervous? I hadn't said anything! "You could tell I was nervous?" I asked. "Sure," she said. If I couldn't tell someone else was nervous just by looking at them, how could they figure that out about me, I thought. I didn't know you were supposed to be able to do that. Think about it: if your only knowledge of how the outside world works comes from the way you experience it, how are you supposed to know anything different? How are you supposed to tell someone you can't do something that you didn't even really know existed?
Another example is also a childhood memory; I was at the eye doctor's. I was trying to explain the itchy feeling in my eye to the doctor. "It feels like a foggy, itchy feeling in the right hand bottom corner of my eye," I said, and went on to use several metaphors and add more details. When I was finished, my mom was staring at me.
"What?", I said, scared I'd done something wrong, and slightly frustrated. After all I had said, they still didn't understand what I was saying?
"Nothing," said my mom, "it's just that you described that so well."
I got an inkling then that most people did not use so many words to describe what was on their mind. I would learn that I was great at describing things in words, but horrible at using words in a "social" way that meshed with what other people were used to and could understand. I couldn't use or understand the body language other people used to communicate things more subtly, so I only get about, what, 20% of communication? It is frustrating beyond belief. It feels like you have every word in the English at your disposal, but you still can't get your point across. You can have a functional conversation with someone without having any idea what they're really talking about, without feeling their emotions, without being aware of the subtext involved. You can get through life that way, but I wouldn't advise it. It's not very much fun.
Does anyone have any examples of this phenomenon in their own lives or in their child's?
3 hours ago