I’m sure you have been asked that question before. Perhaps even more than once. Little do you know how blessed you are.
Most people know that people with autism spectrum disorders have widely ranging, but typically impaired, abilities at stepping into the shoes of others. Those who know individuals with ASDs know that even the recognition that others wear shoes is a monumental, meaningful joy to be celebrated. You and I both know that those shoes might look different, feel different, smell different, etc. You and I both know that those shoes cause different feelings, attitudes, thoughts, and perspectives. Individuals with autism have to learn these differences, feelings, attitudes, thoughts, and perspectives that we learn and learn from so easily.
Noted autism researcher Simon Baron Cohen has labeled this specific deficit “mind-blindness”, which can be described an inability to develop an awareness of what is in the mind of another human. This theory asserts that children with ASD are delayed in developing ToM, which normally allows developing children to attribute mental states – beliefs, intents, desires, pretending, knowledge, etc. – to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desire, and intentions that are different from one’s own. As a result, autistic children often cannot conceptualize, understand, or predict emotional states in other people. It is not necessarily caused by an inability to imagine an answer, but is often due to not being able to gather enough information to work out which of the many possible answers is correct. Mind-blindness is the opposite of empathy.
So, perhaps now you can understand my amazement and absolute glee when a long-term, young adult client with autism asked me, “What would you have done if you were me?” He had become violently upset at a YMCA party over the weekend. A power outage stopped the music, which stopped the party contests and, ultimately, removed the prizes. A promise was made to restart the music. That promise did not come into fruition as designed. Just another change that produced another, more destructive power outage – an emotional one for my client.
The power flickered on Sunday when he emailed the details of the incident and restarted tonight when we discussed the alternatives – my alternatives. Then, we tailored my alternatives to Ben and his autism.
So, when anyone asks you that question, spectrum diagnosis or not, don’t take that question for granted.