Are You NOT Thinking What I'm Thinking?

Like most parents of children on the Autism Spectrum, the drive to pick my boys up from school is often accompinaied by my extreme trepedition. Although I am always looking forward to seeing them I am also preparing for the consequences of how their day has gone. Good days are few and far between and even the best day can still result in the boys being unregulated and on edge. In fact it's those days that the boys Aide tells me what a fantastic day they have had that I dread the most. Them having a good day at school means they have managed to work on someone elses agenda for an entire six and a half hours. It is awesome  that they can do that  but unfortunately there must be a payback.

Professor Attwood explained it to me like this.

Imagine your boys are a spring. When they are able to do what they want,when they want and engage in those activities that give them pleasure they are nice,relaxed, loosely coiled springs. When they are at school, they are having to act and think in a way that is totally unnatural to them. They are doing what is considered "right" by their teachers and peers but while they are doing this our little springs are winding tighter and tighter and tighter. Now we all know that the tighter a sring is wound the more force we  can expect when it unwinds. For your boys the unwind happens the moment they see you. They relax and BOING! Unlike a spring the unwinding is not completed instantaneuosly. Some children take hours to unwind and during that unwinding they are more prone to meltdowns and almost always find it impossible to regulate themselves.

Doesn't really make for a fun afternoon!

I have not really spent a lot of my time post my boys diagnosis wondering what caused them to have Aspergers. I do however find it fascinating and extremely helpful finding out why they act the way they do. Once I understand  what causes a behaviour it is ultimately easier to deal with.

The most insightful lesson I have been given about my boys and the struggles they have with social interaction and communication was the one I learned when Theory of Mind (ToM) was explained to me. ToM is complex and multi layered and the subject of many developmental studies. In it's simplest form this is how I understand it:

ToM is the capacity to understand the thoughts, beliefs, intentions and emotions of other people. 

Most people with ASDs  have a deficit in this area so find it incomprhensible to think that other people have their own thoughts, beliefs and emotions.They think everyone is thinking, believing and feeling what they are! 

Here is an example of how ToM deficit effects my son Ryan.

Often when I pick Ryan up from school I am greeted by a filthy look and grunts instead of greetings. He will then proceed to fling his bag at the car and slam his door after entering. I will ask him what is wrong? His answer is always the same. "DON'T YOU KNOW I'VE HAD A BAD DAY!" 

Obviously seeing I have been away from him for the entire day I don't know anything about his day but he thinks I do.

 Yesterday after this typical outburst I explained exactly that. After which he told me he had a terrible lunch time  and his friends hate him. He felt his friends only played fun games when he was not with them and boring games when he was around. I asked him if it was possible that his friends thought the games they were playing with him WERE fun. He answered "But they're not they're boring I hate them." Again, in Ryans head they were thinking and feeling what he was. It made much more sense that his friends were deliberately playing boring games with him because they hate him.

You can see how confusing this whole socialising business is to a child with ASD!

A Theory of Mind deficit can not be *fixed* instead it is up to us to teach  ToM to our children. This in itself  is a huge task as each and every possible scenario our children may encounter where ToM is needed, needs to be adressed induvidually due to one of the other problems our children have, generalising. 

One of the more interesting parts of my daughters recent assesment appointment with our Psychologist was watching her test  Darcys ToM. Here is an illustrated example of this test. (BTW, my daughter,like her brothers failed this particular test) 

the experimenter asks the child three questions:

  1. ‘Where will Sally look for her marble?’ (belief question: the correct answer is ‘in the basket’)
  2. ‘Where is the marble really?’ (reality question: the correct answer is ‘in the box’)
  3. ‘Where was the marble in the beginning?’ (memory question: the correct answer is ‘in the basket’)    

 Most Neurotypical children will answer all three questions correctly.

Most children with an ASD will answer 2 and 3 correctly  but will expect Sally to look for the marble in the box. They know it is there so Sally should also.

Fascinating, right?

Hopefully as I continue on this journey with my children I can learn more about ToM and the many other reasons my children find this world of ours so difficult to navigate. The more I learn the more able I am to help them overcome their difficulties and although I know life will never be easy  for them I can only try my best to make it easier.


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6/5/2012 9:25 PM
Great post Terriann. I really think your comment re: focusing on reading and learning WHY our children think/ behave in a certain way is definately the most pro-active approach rather than obessing on what caused them to have An ASD in the first Place. Great advice for parents just starting on the journey that follows diagnosis