“The Theory of Mind” means how we infer others’ beliefs, desires, intentions, and emotions. When children have a “theory of mind,” it means they can reflect on what is going on in their own and others’ minds. This usually occurs by four-years-old. This is more difficult for children with autism.
THE MIND OF AUTISTIC CHILDREN
It’s important to remember that autistic children are highly individual. However, difficulty understanding others’ and how minds work are general characteristics. Simon Baron-Cohen at the University of Cambridge, England describes several questions children with autism have been asked in studies that reveal this difficulty. Here are a few examples.
“WHAT IS THE BRAIN FOR?”
Autistic children point out physical functions of the brain like typical children who say the brain makes you move and helps you stay alive. But they don’t recognize the brain has to do with dreaming, keeping secrets, and wanting things which neuro-typical kids point out.
“WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HOW THINGS APPEAR AND HOW THINGS REALLY ARE?”
When a four year-old sees a candle in the shape of an apple, they tell us. “It looks like an apple, but it’s really a candle.” An autistic child might say, however, that it really is an apple. Or, they might say, it is really a candle, not being able to capture the two identities of the object at the same time.
“WHAT DO OTHER PEOPLE THINK?
Autistic children like neuro-typicals under four years old have difficulty taking another’s perspective. They only speak of what they know, not what others’ know. They assume others think what they think.