IT HAS been noticed that autistic people find it hard to perceive the
mental states of others and it has been suggested that the central
feature of autism is an inability to infer another person's views -
that is, they lack understanding of what other people are thinking,
feeling, intending to do, etc. In extreme cases, autistic children may
have no concept of mind at all (Baron-Cohen et al. 1985; Frith 1989).
This inability has been termed lack of Theory of
Mind (ToM) or "mindblindness." This theory seemed to explain a lot in
"autistic" behaviours, and it was enthusiastically welcomed by the
researchers and developed further. Numerous experiments have been
conducted in order to prove that, unlike normally developing children
and children with other developmental disabilities, autistic
individuals cannot understand and predict actions of others. New terms
have been coined that have spread rapidly in the field –
"mind-blindness" and "mind-reading"
ToM theory has stimulated a great amount of research
and a lot of criticism. Numerous studies have shown that ToM cannot be
a primary impairment in autism.
Paradoxically, however, despite the growing evidence
that ToM difficulties are secondary to some primary (and as yet
unidentified) deficit(s) in autism, the theory of ToM theory has grown
in popularity among professionals working with autistic individuals.
Having failed to explain the
development of autism, this theory has proven to be very useful when
applied to practical work with people with ASDs because it gives
professionals and parents explanations of what otherwise have been seen
as idiosyncratic behaviours, and provides ideas on how to address these
So-called lack of ToM in autistic children implies a
different interpretation of "rudeness" and "deliberate stubbornness,"
as well as suggesting the necessity to explain explicitly our
intentions and emotions.
The downside of this theory is "one-sidedness" – it
implies that there must be only one ToM for all people, and either you
develop it (and become "normal"), or you fail to develop ToM (thus
indicating autism) ...
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