The neurodiverse perspective of theory of mind

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Dysmania
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19 Aug 2015, 7:59 pm

Hello everybody.

As you may or may not know, I am not autistic. But I do consider myself a neurodiverse person who is ADHD-PI, and have an auditory processing disorder. I have suffered deeply in school, not because of my condition, but how I was treated in schools. It has really pushed me to study and understand neurological variation. I am a student and researcher who studies how people learn to comprehend the world around them. Specifically, I have been involved in studying the underlying behaviours for perspective-taking, and am aiming to develop an educational program that helps autistic kids understand perspective takings.

I read countless times about theory of mind. And it continues to boggle my mind. And from meeting awesome people with autism, I notice some people have varying difficulties or abilities with perspective taking.

I wanted to know, what is the autistic take on theory of mind -- especially as a child and then an adult. How it affects you and what you feel does not line up.

I'd love to understand how autistics actually know about others. (the studies are misleading and seem to show overly disability in the area. So please enlighten me, and hopefully I can help bring an accurate neurodiverse perspective to the field.

How do you know about other peoples intentions?

Is there anything you are good at or have difficulty with thinking about other peoples interests, wants and desires?

Is there anything the school never thought you and found out later about the matter and you wished you knew when you were younger?

What do you think of theory of mind in relation to autism?



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19 Aug 2015, 11:22 pm

I think you should check out the essay Clinically Significant Disturbance: On Theorists Who Theorize Theory of Mind. The author's argument is that the Theory of Mind doctrine implicitly dehumanizes autistic people.

As for myself, I think that I emphasise fine. I look at the faces people are pulling, put that in the context of the environment where I encounter them, and I've got a fairly reasonable idea of what they're thinking or at least feeling. The complications come in the with specifics - what knowledge do they have that I don't and vice versa. And most of the time I don't actually care what other people are thinking, unless there's a way for me to benefit from it.

I think this whole ToM business is likely to be more cultural than neurological. NTs are used to dealing with eachother, predicting each other's moves and so on. An NT encounters an autistic person and they're baffled. Since majority groups don't like to think of themselves as flawed, any differences between NTs and autistics must be a deficit on the part of the autistics. There's more than a little double standard about the whole thing. If NTs refuse to listen to an autistic person go about their favourite subject, turn down their awful music, or talk quieter they're acting normal, but the second an autistic does something that makes an NT uncomfortable their behavior is immediately medicalised.

And how does ToM work in the context of cross-gender emphasising? You don't need to go far to find some dude writing about how women are baffling mysteries. (I don't believe that for a second, they're about as readable as men to me.) Or what about reading people from different cultural groups? You've got unfamiliar priorities and sometimes unfamiliar facial expressions to deal with. Writing on ToM, at least for popular audiences, tends to exaggerate NT emphasising to telepathic heights while implying that autistics are as socially aware as rocks.

As for what I wish school taught me, I wished there had been explicit instructions on sexual body language. I learned most of my nonverbal know-how as a preadolescent, things like smiley face = happy, frowny face = sad. By the time my libido kicked in it was generally assumed that students would magically know this stuff. Well I didn't, and I had to learn from Yahoo Answers and Wikihow. Autistic students deserve far less silly resources, presented in a confidential and shame free way.


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20 Aug 2015, 12:09 am

I have always had limited Theory of Mind. And finding out about ToM explained a lot of my life. I have always thought being a minority with a very different neurology as an explanation for my ToM issues. Since now we are deciding the idea ToM issues as an Autistic trait was all just a big mistake I am going to need a new label and identity. I will just have to revert back to tough luck I guess. :?


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20 Aug 2015, 4:20 am

That link is a brilliant essay, OP, thank you for giving me the chance to read it. I was immensely moved by it. Theory of Mind reductionism has built careers for some; the cost of their success has been immense for us, and no-one else has written of this so elegantly, nor cogently, as this woman has. As I and others have asserted in older threads, Baron-Cohen built his career on our backs, and it has served his ego, self-promotion and career; he poses as a neurotypical expert (elitist) and yet one wonders what it is that makes him so obsessed with "us". Reaction formation springs to mind, as one possible answer..



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20 Aug 2015, 8:08 am

ASPartOfMe wrote:
I have always had limited Theory of Mind. And finding out about ToM explained a lot of my life. I have always thought being a minority with a very different neurology as an explanation for my ToM issues. Since now we are deciding the idea ToM issues as an Autistic trait was all just a big mistake I am going to need a new label and identity. I will just have to revert back to tough luck I guess. :?


Do you mean you don't understand that other people have their own minds and thoughts?

Because that's really all that "Theory of Mind" means: recognition that other people have their own minds and histories and thoughts and intentions.

I can't recall ever not having such an understanding. My problem is not in theorizing that other minds exist, but in knowing what they contain. Difficulty in "putting yourself in others' shoes" are not, as I understand it, "Theory of Mind" problems, but rather problems of a certain kind of empathy and problems in perceiving subtle emotional communications.



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20 Aug 2015, 4:27 pm

Adamantium wrote:
ASPartOfMe wrote:
I have always had limited Theory of Mind. And finding out about ToM explained a lot of my life. I have always thought being a minority with a very different neurology as an explanation for my ToM issues. Since now we are deciding the idea ToM issues as an Autistic trait was all just a big mistake I am going to need a new label and identity. I will just have to revert back to tough luck I guess. :?


Do you mean you don't understand that other people have their own minds and thoughts?

Because that's really all that "Theory of Mind" means: recognition that other people have their own minds and histories and thoughts and intentions.

I can't recall ever not having such an understanding. My problem is not in theorizing that other minds exist, but in knowing what they contain. Difficulty in "putting yourself in others' shoes" are not, as I understand it, "Theory of Mind" problems, but rather problems of a certain kind of empathy and problems in perceiving subtle emotional communications.


Not knowing other people have different thoughts is complete lack of Theory Of Mind. Difficulty or much more difficulty then most in understanding exactly what other people are thinking is limited theory of mind. Disability is not inability. My difficulty is more in one on one situations and certain topics. I understand fine and always have why black people vote democratic. It took me into my 40's and 50's to understand that saying to grieving people "I'm sorry for your loss" is not considered an insulting platitude. It took me decades to figure out that most people when sick want company, want to be touched and hugged. When I am sick or just in a bad way I want people to say "I'm sorry you are sick", "hope you get better" etc then I want to be left alone. I thought most everybody else felt the same. I thought doing your job well was all that was needed in most cases to keeping the job. I understand there are non autistic people with theory of mind difficulties. There are allistic people with sensory sensitivities, and executive functioning difficulties. The fact that Non autistic people have traits does not mean said trait is not an Autistic trait.


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20 Aug 2015, 5:25 pm

ASPartOfMe wrote:
Adamantium wrote:
ASPartOfMe wrote:
I have always had limited Theory of Mind. And finding out about ToM explained a lot of my life. I have always thought being a minority with a very different neurology as an explanation for my ToM issues. Since now we are deciding the idea ToM issues as an Autistic trait was all just a big mistake I am going to need a new label and identity. I will just have to revert back to tough luck I guess. :?


Do you mean you don't understand that other people have their own minds and thoughts?

Because that's really all that "Theory of Mind" means: recognition that other people have their own minds and histories and thoughts and intentions.

I can't recall ever not having such an understanding. My problem is not in theorizing that other minds exist, but in knowing what they contain. Difficulty in "putting yourself in others' shoes" are not, as I understand it, "Theory of Mind" problems, but rather problems of a certain kind of empathy and problems in perceiving subtle emotional communications.


Not knowing other people have different thoughts is complete lack of Theory Of Mind. Difficulty or much more difficulty then most in understanding exactly what other people are thinking is limited theory of mind. Disability is not inability. My difficulty is more in one on one situations and certain topics. I understand fine and always have why black people vote democratic. It took me into my 40's and 50's to understand that saying to grieving people "I'm sorry for your loss" is not considered an insulting platitude. It took me decades to figure out that most people when sick want company, want to be touched and hugged. When I am sick or just in a bad way I want people to say "I'm sorry you are sick", "hope you get better" etc then I want to be left alone. I thought most everybody else felt the same. I thought doing your job well was all that was needed in most cases to keeping the job. I understand there are non autistic people with theory of mind difficulties. There are allistic people with sensory sensitivities, and executive functioning difficulties. The fact that Non autistic people have traits does not mean said trait is not an Autistic trait.



Hmmm. It seems to me that that is extending Theory of Mind into something grander like this:
http://www.forbes.com/sites/alastairdry ... you-money/

My first understanding of "theory of mind" was the Sally-Anne test. As far as I can remember, I never had that kind of lack of theory of mind. But I have always thought that most people think in very similar ways to me and find it somewhat shocking that they don't. If that's a "Theory of Mind" deficit, then theory of mind is badly named and the supposed relationship between not being aware of the minds of others and not knowing the content of other minds that was initially suggested by Baron Cohen is totally wrong.



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20 Aug 2015, 5:43 pm

Within the Materialist/Reductionist/Rationalist-Paradigm, The Mind is the Brain itself, and that Memories are stored within the Brain itself. Scientists (or what the Materialists/Rationalists/Reductionists often call Pseudo-Scientists or Purveyors of Woo[-Woo]) who deal with & study/research anomalous-phenomena or para-psychology or phenomena that is categorised into the para-normal, such as Dr. Dean Radin or Dr. Rupert Sheldrake, have different observations of Mind & Brain & Memory, and that Memories are not entirely stored in the Brain & that the Mind is what influences the Brain (and the rest of the body for that matter).

Here is the Channel-Description...

Quote:
Uploaded on Oct 28, 2010
Biologist Rupert Sheldrake tells SPTNK "We need a field theory of mind"
Category : Science & Technology
License : Standard YouTube License

You should be VERY careful about getting into these subjects if you're going into any kind of Academic-Tenure, for many have lost their careers over even so much as suggesting anything that is contrary to Status-Quo thinking, even if they have ample evidence to back-up their claims. Eastern-culture regards the Brain to be more like a Receiver of Information, whilst Western-culture regards the Brain as being more like a Generator of Information, but to clear up these contradictory ideas between Brain & Mind, the Brain is really more like both a Generator & Receiver of The Mind...


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Dysmania
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20 Aug 2015, 6:00 pm

SpaceAgeBushRanger wrote:


This was an exceptional article and I thank you for sharing it.

Perhaps, theory of mind was a poor word. But it was something, I think to be widely well understood in this community.

In fact I don't technically study theory of mind, but it is a near the topic and so I am forced to deal with it. I do use the sally anne task to assess treatments, but i don't think its all that theory of mind is. In fact, I have seen countless autistics have empathy just like everybody else. I have seen children trying to help a hurt child, and bringing toys to cheer them up. I have seen a nonverbal child, find a teacher to help another child who had fallen. I want to make sure everybody understands that I am not particularly for or against ToM. I am against the rhetoric used, but I find some validity to ToM. Whether it be part culture, part neurological, or completely cultural. Nevertheless, I wanted to to understand a bit more from the autistic perspective.

I'd be interested in knowing your experience along these questions.

I wanted to know more specifically:

1. When you read a story, do you have difficulty or abilities in being in the shoes of the character? (as a kid and adult?)

2. When you read a story that shifts from one scene to another scene, is it difficult for you to keep track? Why do you think so? (as a kid and adult)

3. As a child, was it difficult for you to understand when to use "I" and when to use "you" when talking?

4. As a child or adult, did you or do you have trouble figuring out when people are talking about something that is happening NOW, happened in the past or will happen in the future?



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20 Aug 2015, 7:14 pm

I am co-morbid ADHD-PI and ASD.

I am very interested in the whole "theory of the mind" thing after discovering this, and the are of "executive functioning" recently whilst being assessed. Ive been thinking a lot about TOTM and how NT thought compares to ASD thought.

But as someone with ADHD-PI, I have struggled to even skim your post and write this out. Seriously I am dying here!

But I would be eager to speak with you about this more directly. Which country are you in?



Dysmania
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20 Aug 2015, 7:49 pm

Herman wrote:
I am co-morbid ADHD-PI and ASD.
But I would be eager to speak with you about this more directly. Which country are you in?


I am from Canada. I have contacted you via PM.



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20 Aug 2015, 10:58 pm

Adamantium wrote:
Hmmm. It seems to me that that is extending Theory of Mind into something grander like this:
http://www.forbes.com/sites/alastairdry ... you-money/

My first understanding of "theory of mind" was the Sally-Anne test. As far as I can remember, I never had that kind of lack of theory of mind. But I have always thought that most people think in very similar ways to me and find it somewhat shocking that they don't. If that's a "Theory of Mind" deficit, then theory of mind is badly named and the supposed relationship between not being aware of the minds of others and not knowing the content of other minds that was initially suggested by Baron Cohen is totally wrong.


ToM was was proposed by Simon Baron Cohen in 1985 at a time when understanding of autism was the "severe" end of Kanner's Autism. I have not read his recent writings on the subject but if he has not changed as with Autism in general we need to move past him. This Indiana Resource for Autism webpage Theory of Mind in Autism: Development, Implications, and Intervention at least understands "individuals with autism spectrum disorder tend to be less proficient “mind readers” compared to people who are typical". But they both acknowledge and compound this problem "Most investigation of theory of mind development has focused on 3 to 4 year old children".

As with autism because we find certain descriptions are infuriating is no reason to say the issue does not exist at all.


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20 Aug 2015, 11:12 pm

I wanted to know more specifically:

1. When you read a story, do you have difficulty or abilities in being in the shoes of the character? (as a kid and adult?)

Depends on the charactor

2. When you read a story that shifts from one scene to another scene, is it difficult for you to keep track? Why do you think so? (as a kid and adult)

Yes. Especially ones where the story jumps back and forth time wise. Multitasking is difficult for me

3. As a child, was it difficult for you to understand when to use "I" and when to use "you" when talking?
Don't remember

4. As a child or adult, did you or do you have trouble figuring out when people are talking about something that is happening NOW, happened in the past or will happen in the future?

As an adult I find most of the times the wording will give it away if it is past or future tense ("Do you remember when", "I expect the stock market to crash" ) If there is not specific wording I assume present.


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21 Aug 2015, 12:07 am

I don't care if people use Theory of Mind terminology, I just want them be suspicious when neurotypicals write about autistics.

I'm not entirely certain that altruism is absolute proof of the awareness that other minds exist, or that they might think differently from you. I could see an autistic kid helping others because they simply think it's the right thing to do, particularly if they've got religious parents who gave them a list of rules to live buy.

As for the questions...
When you read a story, do you have difficulty or abilities in being in the shoes of the character? (as a kid and adult?)
Not especially. It doesn't matter if the character is an animal or a psychopath, I'm confident that I can 'wear their shoes' as well as any NT. Second-Person narration, like in Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books makes it easier, though.

When you read a story that shifts from one scene to another scene, is it difficult for you to keep track? Why do you think so? (as a kid and adult) With most books I'm completely fine. The really weird, avant-garde stuff can still me trip me up. My big example is Philip K Dick novel called Martian Time Slip, which involved an autistic boy having visions about a Martian drought. By the end I had no idea what was happening. But Philip K Dick is always a special case.

I can't get a grip on narrative poetry either. I've read Paradise Lost and a translation of the Odyssey, and I had a hard time understanding what the characters were doing. I could tell you what they were doing at the present, but I'd fail to say how they'd got into this situation or how their current course of actions leads them out of it. I'm not blaming this on any neurological abnormality on my part, but the fact that I learned to read in a culture where narrative poetry is a niche thing.

As a kid, I was completely fine with reading my little kiddy novels.

As a child, was it difficult for you to understand when to use "I" and when to use "you" when talking?
No. Although I thought it was funny that the meanings of the words changed depending on who was using them, and it was convenient that both words could be spelled with one letter.

As a child or adult, did you or do you have trouble figuring out when people are talking about something that is happening NOW, happened in the past or will happen in the future?
No. I think I've understood tenses for as long as I can remember.

Although I'll admit that when I was younger I suspected that adults had a distorted sense of time. I'd ask my parents when we'd leave some dreadful Christmas party, and they'd say soon, and say it again an hour later. I put it down to my parents being relatively useless, but maybe you could argue that I misunderstood was their 'soon' meant.

So I could figure out when the events people were discussing took place, but not how far from the present they were. Again, I'd blame this on a child's uninformed perception of time, not autism.

If you want to see more autistic perspectives on empathy, you should check out this blog on autistic empathy. You might also find Simon Baron-Cohen's typically well-meaning yet patronising response to an autistic critic helpful, particularly the comment thread that follows it.



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21 Aug 2015, 1:00 am

Dysmania wrote:
I wanted to know, what is the autistic take on theory of mind -- especially as a child and then an adult. How it affects you and what you feel does not line up.

I'd love to understand how autistics actually know about others. (the studies are misleading and seem to show overly disability in the area. So please enlighten me, and hopefully I can help bring an accurate neurodiverse perspective to the field.

How do you know about other peoples intentions?

Is there anything you are good at or have difficulty with thinking about other peoples interests, wants and desires?

Is there anything the school never thought you and found out later about the matter and you wished you knew when you were younger?

What do you think of theory of mind in relation to autism?


I don't yet understand the controversy surrounding theory-of-mind as a concept, though the fact that it's controversial in the autistic community suggests I might be better off steering clear of it for the time being at least. Perhaps it's the same as the problems with the term "empathy" which I don't like because it has multiple definitions which can lead to unfortunate confusion, particularly the notion that Aspies don't care about the feelings of others. To my mind, splitting the definition into "cognitive" and "affective" subtypes is a brave attempt at resolving the ambiguity, but as empathy is so often considered by lay people to be of the affective type, I don't think it's enough to really mop up the mess the term creates, and I feel that the term "empathy" is best abandoned. But I'm comfortable with the concept of perspective-taking as explained here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perspective-Taking

That describes something I can certainly do (it seems identical with "cognitive empathy," but as I say, I'm wary of that term). But how good I am at perspective-taking, I don't know. When I was young, I don't think I used such a skill at all, apart from on a very simplistic level, such as noticing that somebody who was crying was sad about something. Now that I'm older, I'm capable of a more detailed appraisal of other people's positions, though I can go for weeks without consciously exercising any such faculty. Perhaps that's simply because I don't have very much contact with people, and the contact I do have tends to be in fairly stable situations where there's maybe little need for such skills. When asked what I think is going on in somebody else's head, my answer tends to be "I really don't know, but I have my suspicions that it's........" It's possible that I view my notions of other people's perspectives as unreliable simply because I have a rather scientific thinking style which is highly mindful of the existence of the slightest doubt, and perhaps at the end of the day nobody really knows what anybody else is truly going through, and it's just that neurotypicals seem fairly happy to guess their way through life.

I don't know whether this paragraph will prove relevent to the questions you're asking, but here's a potted description of how I interact with people: Socially, I generally underestimate my skills and play things rather defensively, putting more energy into avoiding hurting anybody's feelings than I put into taking the initiative to enhance anything, and I tend to be surprised when I find out that friends and family have a fairly high opinion of me. I try to remain "invisible" until they've shown me what kind of people they are with regard to attitudes, values etc., and then I tend to tailor what I share with them around my knowledge of what they can cope with. When dealing with "business relationships" (bosses, service providers, benefits adjudicators, doctors, lawyers, salesmen, etc.), I mostly expect them to be covertly competing against me, believing that they're mainly interested in their promoting their own agenda (making money out of me or minimising the help they give me), though I'm always looking for some kind of sense of fair play and co-operativity, and I sometimes find it, though mostly their behaviour seems to validate my cynical notion of their intentions.

I suppose I "know about other people's intentions" by comparing what I see with past outcomes, erring on the side of cynicism. It often takes me some time to articulate to myself the significance of what they've said or done, though at the time they're doing it I very often get a strong feeling that they've done something significant. It's as if I have an immediate, intuitive grasp of these things as they happen, but somehow can't make full use of it until my brain has processed it "offline" for a while.

I wish I'd been taught how to see other people's perspective, about emotional intelligence in general, when I was young. I never really expected my schools to teach such things, though it would have been useful.

I don't have much trouble with those skills in the questions that SpaceAgeBushRanger just answered.

Hope you find some of this informative.



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21 Aug 2015, 2:43 am

I'm not sure why theory of mind is so controversial to be honest.

To me it seems obvious. Autistic minds process and experience the world differently to NT minds.
Everyone's theory of mind is based upon applying how they experience the world to others. This rests on the basic assumption that the mind I am trying to understand is roughly the same as mine i.e. it experiences the world in roughly the same way as my own mind. When NT's communicate with each other this assumption is mostly true. There are, of course, some variations but they all fall within a fairly narrow set of parameters. But this assumption is less true when an autistic person is trying to understand an NT mind. The minds are different and experience the world in quote different ways. So their theory of mind is impaired because they come from a different reference point.

Of course the reverse is equally true. My NT mind is impaired when trying to understand my autistic son's mind. My theory of mind is just as impaired as his. The only reason we talk about autistic people having "impaired" theories of mind is because the autistic mind type is about 1 in 100 and so the resulting communication problems are more of an issue when engaging with society. If we reversed the proportions and NT's were now 1% of the population we would talk about NT's having an impaired theory of mind.