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Let's Talk about Theory of Mind

Uncategorized Sep 30, 2020

Can we talk about theory of mind?

Theory of mind is the ability to attribute mental states such as beliefs, intents, desires, emotions and knowledge, among others, to oneself and to others. Theory of mind is necessary to understand that others have beliefs, desires, intentions, and perspectives that are different from one's own. - Wikipedia.

Neurodivergent people live inside of a society that unfortunately struggles with theory of mind.

We know this when we reflect on current educational institutions, systemic philosophies and processes along with social and cultural structures constructed with neuronormative standards in consideration.

Autistic people in general are largely misunderstood as being typical, simply because we appear the same on the outside.

We are expected to be typical.

This means that non autistic people have a difficult time accepting, understanding and sometimes even believing that we are, in fact, autistic; which in turn indicates disability.

When autistic children are identified as autistic, they are offered early intervention and therapies, whether they require them or not.

In many (most) social environments, autistic people are expected to live, communicate and behave as non autistic people do.

There is a complete dismissal of disability, neurodivergence and neurodiversity when many of those social environments such as educational settings continue to use systems of reward and punishment.

Positive behavioural support plans is a classic example.

We are not rewarding and punishing good and bad behaviour.

We are rewarding and punishing ability, capacity and disability; a person’s ability to be something they’re not and to perform in non autistic ways when they ARE NOT NON AUTISTIC.

Social skills training, early intervention, pathologising behaviour and dismissing it as dysfunctional are but some of the factors that actually contribute to poor mental health in autistic people when they seek to normalise and not actualise a person.

Our children are “intervened with” in their formative years. Before they have the ability, the freedom and the basic human right to form a sense of self, they are pathologised and their families encouraged to hover over them, correcting their every move.

And then, we wonder why autistic youth behave in ways that are harmful to themselves. We wonder why their mental health is poor and they’re grasping for whatever control they can get.

A person grasping for control is a form of compensation.

I’ve heard adults say things such as “We’ve trained them to give high fives when they don’t want to say Hello”.

Children are human beings, too. They are human beings who should have the right to refuse engagement when they do not feel safe or capable.

Would I be forced to high five a stranger as an adult? Do we as a society walk around high fiving everyone that says Hello to us when we’ve never met?

“Their family just allowed them to sit and engage in meaningless, non functional play and now they don’t have any social skills”.

When non autistic children behave in particular ways, we are more likely to ask why.

What has happened? Why are you upset? Why are you running out of the room?

When autistic people behave in the same ways, it’s just readily assumed and understood that it’s because they’re autistic.


We have feelings. We experience the same things non autistic people do.

Most autistic people are more than happy to live and let live - neurodiversity.

So please, let’s talk about theory of mind.

I’ll say it a thousand times over:

Supports. Individualised, collaborative, safe and respectful supports and choice.

Never “intervention”.
Image Credit: willsantt

(Image description: A young child with short brown hair sits in front of lush, green foliage. The child holds a glass jar full of fairy lights and looks upwards in wonder)


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