Is this Newsweek description of autism accurate?

I think this was more about whether autistic people could develop a theory of mind, not developing a “theory of the mind of the autistic person.”

Maybe Sally passed Anne on the way in and told her.

I don’t know if this was meant to be funny, but no as I asked for him to explain it and the answer was basically ‘because the ball was in the box’ and it was clear that Sally and Anne didn’t have contact, nor did he infer or imply that they did.

Not according to the OP, it was:

But that doesn’t invalidate your question if they can develop it, as that is what we are trying to get him to do, but that is beyond the GQ of the OP.

This is much of what he asks for. Basically ‘if ---- then -----’ he wants instructions of how do do something in a certain circumstance. He wants to pull a script for everything. He has lots of trouble trying to adapt to changing conditions, and even more trouble with social situations. He also asks for instructions on many thing he should be able to do.

When I play Minecraft with him he is always asking things like should I chop down this tree. He understands the game good enough. Another aspect I have noticed with him in the game is he, more often than not, gets exactly in my way, as he does in real life. I find that sort of funny that he does the exact same thing in game and IRL. He finally no longer gets up and stands right at the TV blocking our view as we are watching something.

I’m kind of surprised a high functioning adult would get it wrong. What does he say if you explain the correct answer?

Sounds like this explanation would fit him pretty well:

Can he play Minecraft okay by himself? I’m wondering if he’s second guessing everything he does because he has no idea what you are trying to achieve, or how you might react to anything he does, or how to tell insignificant actions from important ones.

Pre-teen. He did get it once I lead him to the answer, it was a a ha moment.

Sounds like this explanation would fit him pretty well:


Thanks, will look at that.

He can play by himself and often does but very regimented, he uses a very limited set of options when he plays. He likes to try out stuff about it he sees on youtube and tried to perfect the moves he sees. He also has a hard time playing with another person in that he becomes very dependent and has trouble functioning semi-independantly. I suspect it’s because I play very fluidly, changing to the map setup or just wanting to try new things.

What I am doing he wants to do, even when that is detrimental to our game play (as there is only so many resources in a given area, if he is by my side we will get the same number resources from that area as opposed to him gathering resources on his own then combining them ). In that he is using me like he uses youtube, to see then try to incorporate it but very little independant action on his part. Again to me he seems to be building his if this then that mindset.

Ah okay, that’s a bit different. I think the theory is that this is something ‘normal’ people understand intuitively, but someone with autism has to reason it out, and that requires more intelligence and more maturity. And also, perhaps, it’s something you might learn by experience in one situation but not automatically think to apply in a different one.

It’s odd in a way, because a game should be the perfect low-stakes place to experiment. I’ve played with other people, but only adults, so I don’t know how independent kids usually are.

The ‘if this then that’ mindset reminds me of how people commonly approach subjects they don’t understand and don’t expect to understand, like maths. Only he is using it for everything. I have no idea if it’s an effective strategy or not.

A problem is that “autism” is not just increasingly a broad spectrum, it is also a huge umbrella term lumping what are highly likely multiple variations of brain function together by broad patterns of similarities in observable phenotype. Which has some predictive value for patterns that may follow and the sorts of interventions that might be useful if those patterns occur. But are still likely multiple very different things.

An article written multiple decades ago would have been emphasizing relative deficiencies in theory of mind and trying to find ways to make that concept understandable to the general public.

Deficiency in Theory of Mind is not a required aspect to diagnose autism and explicitly addressing such deficiency is not the mainstay of early childhood intervention for autism. A therapy plan individualized to the specific child’s identified weaknesses and strengths and Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) are.

Thank you.

What sort of things does this therapy consist of?

That kind of glosses over a detail.

You wrote that he said Sally should look for the ball where Anne put it. Which is, strictly speaking, true: she should look for the ball there; that’s where it is.

Did you ask where Sally will look for the ball, or — as your retelling suggests — where Sally should look for the ball? Because the former can imply the whole other-minds-and-perspectives bit; but couldn’t the latter just be an example of, say, interpreting a question literally?

I see your point and quite honestly I don’t remember, but after some thought the follow up discussion after his answer did seem to indicate that he initially did not consider it from Sally’s perspective but also another possibile way of looking at it is instead of seeking to understanding the question and think it out, he may have tried to guess at the answer from cue words in the question, not processing the question, but used some sort of ‘algorithm’ to answer it without having to think it through or process the question, but may have related that to a type of typical question where the answer is usually in a certain part of it. Really that last part come from knowing him and part of what I have seen him do in other things.

I noticed that the if this then that mindset was how he used to do his math homework. It took him 30min per problem and he complained about how much homework the teacher gave. I spent time explaining how to solve those problems, which took about a hour, and once he got it it was taking 2 minutes per problem. But his default seems to still be to seek out the if this then that with new things.

The basics is that there is less focus on HOW or WHY the behaviors occur and more of a focus on operant conditioning that reinforces more adaptive and functional socially significant behaviors and skills. ABA is time intensive and often home-based with parent training involved. The child may be improving on the targeted specific skills by improving their ability to develop a theory of mind, or not.

Broadly, the American Academy of Pediatrics endorsement for interventions is (sorry if behind a wall):

It seems to me that a better test would be one that determines if they understand the state of mind, rather than just knowledge.

For instance, to expand on the OP’s test:

Sally puts a marble in the red box. John moves the marble to the blue box. When Sally finds the marble in the blue box, she is mad at John.

Anne puts a marble in the red box. John moves the marble to the blue box. When Anne finds the marble in the blue box, will she be mad at John?

ISTM that someone with a well developed theory of mind would answer, “I don’t know, why was Sally mad that her marble was moved?” And someone without would assume that Sally and Anne would have the same reaction to the same situation.

I don’t know if that’s the best way of framing it, but the test as described by the OP is really more of a logic puzzle, than an understanding of the perspective of others.

Understanding how people would react emotionally, when you might react emotionally very differently in the same circumstance, is arguably a higher level skill … one that many of us normies do fairly poorly at!

Step one is just being able to imagine viewing the circumstance from someone else’s perspective, and tests of Theory of Mind (ToM) are mainly aimed at looking for that in isolation of other things.

But yes there is very reasoned debate about how to measure ToM and how well these tests actually accomplish it. PDF downloadable.

I actually think that’s great! If I had brought the other opener to my ex husband, he would have screamed at me that he wanted the opener that was in the box, and I was obviously too stupid or forgetful to bring the right one. :wink:

We moved into our house about a year ago, and it has sliding glass doors on two levels that open onto decks. It is a long way down from the decks and there is no ladder. I have a 4-year-old.

I adjusted the locks on the sliding doors so they didn’t actually lock within the first few days. It was only about a week before the 4-year-old tried to lock both parents on the deck, and was dismayed to find it did not work. He still likes to lock us out of other doors, but we carry keys for those.