Theory of mind. It is a widely debated subject, by professionals, parents and autistic people themselves. Personally, I feel that the words make sense and that I do indeed suffer from an impairment of ToM. As I have grown older however, my Theory of Mind skills have improved significantly. I still remember the day, two weeks before Christmas when my brother used his superior Theory of Mind to get me into trouble. Mum had shown me that my brother was getting a baby dinosaur digital pet for Christmas. She told me not to tell him. As I always did what Mum said (Mum might disagree there!), I refused to tell my brother even with the constant whines of ‘Lucy what did Mum get me for Christmas?’ I was not going to crack as I knew I was not allowed. My brother, who had seemingly given up, left the room and went upstairs. I went back to lining up my toy cars. My brother then came back down and said ‘Mum said that it’s okay for you to tell me what I got’. The following happened in my brain:
Brother tells me Mum said it’s ok
Brother is unable to lie (as I believed at the time)
Therefore Mum said it’s ok.
‘You got a baby dinosaur digital pet’ I said, honestly believing that my Mum had given me permission to tell him! My brother immediately burst into tears and ran upstairs shouting ‘MUMMY LUCY TOLD ME WHAT I AM GETTING FOR CHRISTMAS!!!’ I remained on the floor trying to process this then Mum came down and I, inevitably, got told off! It took me a further 12 years to work out what had happened in this scenario! The thing is, I was unable to see that my brother was able to lie. I did understand the concept of lying to some degree, for example not telling a fat person they are fat even if they ask (although I did wonder why they would ask such a thing if they did not want the truth!) but I was unable to metaphorically put myself in my brother’s shoes and see it from his point of view!
My theory of mind also lacks when it comes to understanding other people’s likes and dislikes. I don’t like loud music, for example so I just cannot understand why other people like it. I am very stubborn when it comes to changing my opinion. Just telling me ‘but some people like it’ isn’t enough. Like a 6 year old child, I need to know WHY. I never get the answer, who has it? This problem can also reverse, so if I like something, lets say rabbits, everyone should like rabbits. Everyone should be interested in everything I have to say about rabbits. Now that I am older and (I’d like to think a bit) wiser, I am able to accept that just because I like the Big Bang Theory (my latest interest. 10 points for anyone who recognised the title), other people don’t have to like it too. I still feel a little wound up if someone, in particular my brother, says it is crap, but I don’t give them a 10 hour lecture about why I am right and they are wrong! Okay so inside I still struggle to understand why other people aren’t as interested in my interest as I am, but I don’t project that outwards. I am also better at pretending to be interested in stuff that other people like but I don’t! I am quite lucky that I am able to multi-task so I can take in a boring conversation and hear the entire cast recording of Phantom of the Opera (another interest) in my head without appearing rude!
Finally I leave you with another funny story which I didn’t understand how inappropriate the conversation was at the time but now do. I was sat in the special needs base at lunchtime and a staff member was eating a sandwich. I decided that this would be a good time to explain how a rabbits’ digestive tract works, including the part where they eat their own poop because it needs to be digested twice! I couldn’t understand why the staff member started yelling at me so every time she stopped, I resumed talking about pseudorumination until she threatened to kick me out! If that staff member is reading this, I humbly apologise!