Theory of Whose Mind?

Having theory of mind allows one to attribute thoughts, desires, and intentions to others, to predict or explain their actions, and to posit their intentions


Theory of mind, as explained above, basically means being able to read (or at least guess accurately) other people’s minds.

I have weak theory of mind. Though I can usually tell if someone is happy, sad, angry or upset, I often have no idea why unless they actually tell me. I used to think that my theory of mind was fine. That others would think similar thoughts to me in similar situations. And because of this, I often made assumptions that got me into trouble. I still do.

Some “Autism Professionals” would say that’s because I’m autistic. And while I have to remind myself that I can’t read minds, I would argue that nobody can. Just as I have no idea what’s going on in someone’s mind, they have no idea what’s going on in mine. For example, I have often been called condescending and accused of thinking that I’m better than others. While in my mind, I’m merely pointing out a factual error someone has made, and not ascribing values such as “better” or “worse”.

The problem is, non-autistic people are more often inclined to think along the same lines in similar situations than autistic people are. So their chances of guessing correctly when they guess what another non-autistic person is thinking are higher than my chances of guessing what they’re thinking. But, similarly, their chances of correctly guessing what an autistic person is thinking is much lower. We simply think differently to the majority. Autistic academic Damien Milton refers to this as the double empathy problem. (Empathy and Theory of Mind are linked but I’m not going to get into that right now.) Autistic Science Lady makes very similar points here.

So, while I am now more aware that a lot of my problems arise from problems with my Theory of Mind, I will no longer blame myself as severely as I have been doing.

I can’t read minds. And you can’t either.

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