Thursday, May 24, 2012

Theory of Mind

There's a whole section on Theory of Mind in Tony Attwood's scholarly Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrone; meanwhile, in her more populist text The Way I See It, Temple Grandin takes it down in a single neat paragraph: "Theory of Mind is the ability to understand what other people may be thinking. In its most elemenary form, it's the ability to understand that different people have different thoughts. ... These are all social thinking skills that develop without formal instruction in neurotypical individuals, starting at a very early age. These are also skills that most people, including educators, assume exist in all people. ... This is not the case within the autism population."

It's a fascinating subject, or it would be if it didn't explain so much about the missteps and mis-comprehensions that so deeply mark my relationships with other people. With all people. I have begged, literally begged certain ex-girlfriends to "please, please, please don't play the game of 'Guess Why I'm Angry At You,' or 'Guess What I Really Mean By What I Just Said,' or 'Guess What I Want From You."

Because I can't.

To some extent this factors into every aspect of my life, including this blog. Autistic and Aspergian individuals grow up believing that everyone else thinks the same way they do, that everyone else is essentially sympathetic, trustworthy, and without any kind of different agenda that might be in direct opposition to theirs.

This results in a lifetime of making social blunders and missteps and learning the hard way that abilities, sensibilities and especially thoughts and emotions are not mirror images of our own.

My father tells me, "You have no sensitivity as to what can be said in public."

Most likely, Theory of Mind is the reason "my Perfect Woman" is someone that I don't and can't actually know: "The Perfect Woman" is a Sphinx, a cypher, bearing outward confidence and the appearance of wisdom, upon which I can project my own interior universe. It happened again while I was in the hospital. I wrote a whole novel about this. I thought it was a good novel at the time. How depressing to realize that I was just using it to Figure Something Out.

All of this has a huge effect on Asperger's patients that I have only just now come to comprehend: It makes us, on a biological level, insensitive and unempathetic to the thoughts and feelings of others, while at the same time creating a burdensome level of anxiety and depression because others do not appear to be sensitive and empathetic to our thoughts and feelings.

That sense you might get of a person with Asperger's or Autism living inside an invisible bubble: that's, in part, our failings in Theory of Mind at work. If a person with Asperger's sometimes behaves like a small child, or seems not to comprehend things that are patently obvious to everyone else in the room, Theory of Mind is the reason why; and just being aware of it, although it illuminates so much of my past, unfortunately does not rid me of the problem.

Just yesterday I confided to my boss that I don't think I'm as good an employee now as I was when I was drinking because I am having much more difficulty focussing and keeping my mind on task. I actually told her that when I was coming in to work all hung over, I felt so lousy that I knew I had to focus in order to make things happen. Only today, well after the fact, did I realize that this might not have been such a hot idea after all. Performance Reviews are coming up; I inadvertently gave her ammunition to use against me because, in that moment, it never occurred to me that her agenda might be demonstrably different from mine.

You saw it again in my recent "Y Post." So, I doubt that this is something that will ever completely go away, I doubt that I will ever completely understand The Human Race. But from here on, if I pay attention, just maybe I will be able to understand why I can't understand them.

-- Freder.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting stuff, Doug. We are a diverse, fascinating group, the human race! No wonder I like animals so much. ;-P


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