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Autism : Theory of mind

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Autism and theory of mindEdit

There has also been speculation that certain humans fail to progress through the normal cognitive developmental stages that lead to acquisition of a theory of mind. In 1985 Simon Baron-Cohen, Alan Leslie and Uta Frith published an article called "Does the autistic child have a theory of mind?" in which it was suggested that children with autism have particular difficulties with tasks requiring the child to understand another person's beliefs. These difficulties persist when children are matched for verbal skills (Happe, 1995, Child Development) and have been taken as a key feature of autism.

Many autistic individuals have severe difficulty assigning mental states to others, and they seem to lack theory of mind capabilities.[1] Researchers who study the relationship between autism and theory of mind attempt to explain the connection in a variety of ways. One account assumes that theory of mind plays a role in the attribution of mental states to others and in childhood pretend play.[2] According to Leslie,[3] theory of mind is the capacity to mentally represent thoughts, beliefs, and desires, regardless of whether or not the circumstances involved are real. This might explain why autistic individuals show extreme deficits in both theory of mind and pretend play. However, Hobson proposes a social-affective justification,[4] which suggests that an autistic person’s deficits in theory of mind result from a distortion in understanding and responding to emotions. He suggests that typically developing human beings, unlike individuals with autism, are born with a set of skills (such as social referencing ability) which will later enable them to comprehend and react to other people’s feelings. Other scholars emphasize that autism involves a specific developmental delay, so that children with the impairment vary in their deficiencies, because they experience difficulty in different stages of growth. Very early setbacks can alter proper advancement of joint-attention behaviors, which may lead to a failure to form a full theory of mind.[5] These researchers’ findings are important to understanding the social disorder, because they suggest that autism’s abnormalities, which may initially appear to be unrelated to theory of mind, such as communication challenges, in fact result from theory of mind deficits.



See alsoEdit

References & BibliographyEdit

  1. Baron-Cohen, S. (1991). Precursors to a theory of mind: Understanding attention in others. In A. Whiten, Ed., Natural theories of mind: Evolution, development, and simulation of everyday mindreading (233-251). Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell.
  2. Leslie, A. M. (1991). Theory of mind impairment in autism. In A. Whiten, Ed., Natural theories of mind: Evolution, development, and simulation of everyday mindreading. Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell.
  3. Leslie, A. M. (1991). Theory of mind impairment in autism. In A. Whiten, Ed., Natural theories of mind: Evolution, development, and simulation of everyday mindreading. Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell.
  4. Hobson, R.P. (1995). Autism and the development of mind. Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Ltd.
  5. Baron-Cohen, S. (1991). Precursors to a theory of mind: Understanding attention in others. In A. Whiten, Ed., Natural theories of mind: Evolution, development, and simulation of everyday mindreading (233-251). Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell.

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