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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Theory of Mind is still with us

It's a given when it comes to autism, or rather a misconception. Like all misconceptions it is both commonplace and all pervasive, the myth that autistic people lack empathy.


We arrive at the restaurant, install ourselves in a booth in a rather haphazard manner and begin to examine the menu. Everyone knows off by heart.

A father and a baby arrive at the same time. They wait to be seated.

“Where for it is?”
“Where’s what dear?”
“The kids menu?”
“Oh did we only get one kids menu sheet?”
“Hmm.” I look at my son’s face which is growing closer to my own height. “Maybe they thought you were too big for the kids menu?”
“Twelve and over?”
“Quite possibly. You do seem to be awfully large these days.”
"Um...'quite,' quite large." He grabs the unwieldy 8 page laminated menu with alacrity and begins to peruse his choices. He drops it again in favour of the less daunting single page of ‘specials.’ I watch him, animated and engaged. I don’t believe he has ever actively chosen to read a menu, even at MacDonalds, even if MacDonalds can be described as having a menu in the first place.

His eyes are sucked off the page by the arrival of the quite adorable baby and his father in the opposite booth. They had no problem 'waiting to be seated,' unlike my unruly brood. The baby cooes and kicks with contentment whilst his Dad quips his order to the server. I examine the specials so that I’m better able to prioritize and limit my son’s choices, as choice is always a hurdle.

The boys gasp collectively for no apparent reason. “What is it?” I ask two people who are staring across the room. I look across the room at the baby and father. The father reads the newspaper and eats from a plate piled high with pancakes, sausages and salad. “What is it dear?”
“Dah baby.” I look at the baby but my view is obscured by a large cuddly toy.
"It's o.k. his dad will probably feed him in a minute."
"No! Dah baby!"
“What about the baby?” I look at the big furry mass with the still legs underneath, the stiff arms poking out either side, the silence.
“He dun like it.”
“He doesn’t like what…..I mean…..what doesn’t he like?”
“Dah wolf is scary for him.” Whilst one child speaks, the other takes action as he flits across the passage, grabs the cuddly wolf and turns it’s face outwards, teeth bared, the wolf, not the boy, and slips back to our booth like a whippet. The father snaps down his paper, but not quickly enough. He glances at his baby son who chews contentedly on the wolf tail in his face.

Rats to “the theory of mind.”

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