Question about theory of mind

I’m just wondering if a person could have good theory of mind in the abstract but poor application of it. 

Neither my partner or my teenage daughter have an autism diagnosis, but I think they both have autistic traits.I am considering whether or not my daughter should be assessed for ASD but one sticking point in my mind is theory of mind. I think she has a natural, good and nuanced understanding of the perspectives, emotions, intents etc of other people. But she often doesn’t behave as if she does.

My partner likewise. There’s one example of something he did recently that illustrates what I’m asking. He likes to match his wine to what we’re eating and on this occasion, we were having red wine. My sister was visiting so I reminded him that we should have some white wine too as this is her preference. I told him 3 times over 24 hours to get used to the idea. He looked alarmed and said that it wouldn’t match and that we didn’t have any white in. He wasn’t comfortable with me going to get any white wine either. I explained that it wasn’t about it being a match: she’s a guest and we should get in what she would like. Also red wine gives her headaches. He couldn’t get his head round it and kept repeating what he’d previously said. But if he’d been asked about this situation, rather than actually being part of it, he would have given the perfect answer. He would have had a good and quick understanding of what would have been correct to do in this situation.

So could it be said that he has an impairment in theory of mind because he cannot demonstrate he has it in his behaviour, or could there be another explanation for his behaviour e.g. anxiety getting in the way of judgement?

I’d be very interested in any views or to be directed to some relevant reading. Thanks.

Top Replies

  • I think she has a natural, good and nuanced understanding of the perspectives, emotions, intents etc of other people

    Most autistic people do.

    I'm looking forward to the day when 'theory of…

Parents
  • I think she has a natural, good and nuanced understanding of the perspectives, emotions, intents etc of other people

    Most autistic people do.

    I'm looking forward to the day when 'theory of mind' is removed from the descriptors. As your questions illustrate, a lack of understanding and respect of other people's points of views and actions is a human trait, it is not an autistic 'deficit'.

    I'd like to know why your sister's feelings are more important to you than your husband and why you and your sister couldn't adapt your behaviour in order to avoid causing your husband frustration and upset?

Reply
  • I think she has a natural, good and nuanced understanding of the perspectives, emotions, intents etc of other people

    Most autistic people do.

    I'm looking forward to the day when 'theory of mind' is removed from the descriptors. As your questions illustrate, a lack of understanding and respect of other people's points of views and actions is a human trait, it is not an autistic 'deficit'.

    I'd like to know why your sister's feelings are more important to you than your husband and why you and your sister couldn't adapt your behaviour in order to avoid causing your husband frustration and upset?

Children