Autism, Behaviour and Theory of Mind.

Many non-autistics have a view that Autistic individuals 'lack empathy' and have an impaired ‘theory of mind’.

What is Theory of Mind?

Theory of mind is the ability to attribute mental states for example beliefs, intents, desires, emotions, and knowledge — to ourselves and others.

How can we test Theory of mind?

The false belief test.

Sally-Ann Test: A child is shown two dolls. One called Sally who has a basket and the other Ann who has a box. The child watches as Sally puts her marble in the basket and then Sally goes away. Ann now takes the marble out of the basket and puts it in the box. Sally returns. The child is asked the question: where will Sally look for the marble?

The double empathy problem.

Dr Damian Milton proposes a different interpretation for the disconnection between Autistic and non-autistic people, dubed the double empathy problem.

Milton argues that Autistic people experience the world and express emotions differently to non-autistic people. He highlights that autistic people communicate, experience and display emotions, interact with others, form relationships, and sense the world around us, in a different way to non-autistics. 

That doesn’t mean that autistic people don’t have emotions or feel empathy, it basically means that Autistic differences lead to different life experiences, which appear to create an empathy divide.

Comunication is a 2 way street.

Absolutely BUT....
Because the non-autistic way of communicating and empathising with others is the universally believed/accepted typical, expected way, it is unfortunately accepted as ‘normal’ and ‘correct’ by most people. 

However - Yes it could be argued that Autistic people lack ‘social insight’ into non-autistic culture and style of communication, but on the flip side, it could also be said that non-autistic people lack ‘social insight’ into Autistic culture and communication.  

Therefore in summery Milton highlights that both Autistic and non-autistic people experience a lack of understanding for the other group. 


Autistic people are frequently given ‘treatment plans to help them to understand non-autistic perspectives but it seems a very one sided bias approach because non-autistic people do not expect themselves to understand or learn Autistic perspectives Basically in summery Milton’s point is that we could see non-autistic people as lacking empathy for Autistic people.

Autistic empathy is no less compassionate, no less thoughtful than non-autistic empathy: it is just simply different. 

An interesting read: On the ontological status of autism: the ‘double empathy problem’



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