Thursday 15 October 2015

Theory of mind - double rainbow and breakfast

Understanding why your child does something is important for all kids. Why did you pull her hair, not do your homework or even why are you so tired today? For neuro-typical kids I'm often told straight away - she took my toy, I don't like my teacher or I'm feeling a bit ill.  Often in children with autism all you have is clues.  This may be because like around 25% of individuals with autism your child is non verbal but it can also be because they don't understand they need to tell you.

'Theory of mind' is being able to attribute 'mental states' such as beliefs, desires, pretending, knowledge, etc. to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires, intentions, and perspectives that are different from one's own.  My eldest son for example has a unique application of empathy in this post because he finds this difficult.

To help me through the day I often have to understand that it's not just that my sons see the world differently - it's often that they assume I see it like they do, with all their knowledge, emotions, intentions etc too.

This morning, like most mornings, David stood by the bed and clearly signed 'breakfast'. This is great.  It used to be that when David was hungry he would sit down at the kitchen table or by a snack cupboard and wait.  This was not David's way of communicating with me - he didn't understand he needed to tell me he was hungry.  He knew he was hungry so as far as David was concerned everyone knew.  Eventually he would become frustrated and now, just like this morning, David communicates mostly in sign to tell us when he wants something to eat such as meals, food items or drinks.

I think David has developed a basic level of the Theory of Mind which helps him function better in these situations.  He has learned to communicate his needs, but this doesn't necessarily mean he understands the Theory of Mind.  My older son, Anthony, communicates quite well but that doesn't change what he perceives. 

This morning Anthony informed me (again) that he had seen a double rainbow on the way to swimming yesterday.  His father was taking him to his 1:1 swimming lesson while I was at home caring for the other kids. Due to the way Anthony processes light he tends not to look at rainbows (follow by blog to see a post on sensory processing soon) so asked me about what it looked like.  Naturally I had little to offer as I was at home.  Anthony found this confusing.  He knew there had been a rainbow so why didn't I?  Even when I explained that I was in our house and couldn't see the sky, Anthony suggested I should have looked outside to see it.  He was still assuming that l had the same knowledge as he so I had known it was there.

Despite explaining that no one had told me about the rainbow so I didn't see it the conversation fizzled and we moved on.  Fortunately I didn't need to guess my way through any other confusing situations or conversations.  Anthony put on his coat, David finished his breakfast and along with Jane and I, we got into the car to set off for school.

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