Autism, Theory of Mind and Describing My Personal Experience
The Good, The Frustrating and Growing Awareness
Picture this, if you will: Someone close to you is having a hard time, they may be going through stress, a change, upheaval or just simply trying to get by. They’ve described this experience to you and said “I just don’t know how to get through… things are pretty crazy right now.” To which your natural reaction probably is “I totally get that!” You can figuratively and mentally picture yourself in that person’s shoes through using your own experiences as a way to understand and empathize what they are going through, even if your two experiences look different, you get the jest and without even realizing have just practiced theory of mind.
An experience that is defined as “an understanding that others can have minds that are different from our own. More specifically, it is that other can have thoughts, feelings, and perspectives different from ours.” (The Autism Blog, Seattle Hospital Children’s Website). It is natural for most that you may not even recognize it as an experience you have; however, for those of us on the Autism Spectrum, like myself, it’s rather unnatural and like many of the other social interaction skills, one we must cultivate if finding and keeping meaningful connections is important. At the same time one of the challenges in being Autistic is having a lack of this awareness or theory of mind that can make developing those connections difficult in that as I’ve read lack of Theory of Mind (or ToM) common in Autism “may lead to misreading or failure to read emotions, intentions, or cues from others. In addition, ToM may lead to limited expression of empathy towards others” and “ToM may also result in one approaching a social situation with assumptions that may not be accurate.” (The Autism Blog, Seattle Children’s Hospital Website).
Describing My Experience and Frustration:
I personally experience and visualize it as a “mental wall” blocking me from seeing what’s on the other side. In which sometimes I am able to see through just enough to be patient, to understand or empathize slightly if it’s close enough to what I’ve experienced myself. While other times, the wall to break down, and often prevents me from understanding more of the bigger picture when I need it most. In which, I’ve often felt frustrated and baffled that after all this time I’m still struggling to see what’s obvious to others, and need the reminder or extra perspective… especially if it’s not a new scenario. It’s enough for me to long for a normal experience or way of thinking, when really all that is most needed is a little extra self-compassion every now and then for myself, as I continue to learn and grow my own awareness.
The Good News:
The good news is like many social experiences I’ve had to learn from, I am continually learning from this one, as the more I’ve come up against it, the more practice I’ve had at recognizing the awareness needed to understand. I’m also quite fortunate to have an amazing family that understands this is part of my own experience and challenge in being Autistic. So, they are patient with me when I fail to see what’s behind that wall; persistent in helping to bring awareness needed for me to consider the other side, and often given me the space to get there on my own, which I eventually do. So, as with many wonderful insights I’m getting there, one small moment of awareness at a time.
And… Until next time You-niquely Yours,