Theory of mind is the ability to attribute mental states -- beliefs, intents, desires, pretending, knowledge, etc. -- to oneself and others and to understand others have beliefs, desires, and intentions that are different from one's own. - Wikipedia
There's been a lot said about the way people with autism seem to lack Theory of Mind. I'm nowhere near an expert on the subject but I see this as ranging from a person who has trouble seeing another's point of view, to one who literally has no concept that the person next to them has their own internal thoughts and feelings.
I've often wondered about Ethan and Theory of Mind. It's a hard thing to track in a person, especially one so young. Even typical kids his age are pretty egocentric and aren't exactly moving into abstract areas like considering a problem from another person's perspective.
Sometimes, though, I get little hints. When he used to play Hide and Seek and forget to truly hide, or tell me where he was hiding, I wondered. I wondered what clicks in a child's mind to help him see that hiding was also perspective taking -- thinking about where a person might look or not look, to realize that hiding in a certain spot might not be good because the other person might find you quickly or easily.
If you lack Theory of Mind, you'll never be good at Hide and Seek.
And so, Ethan has always loved Hide and Seek but for the longest time was a horrible hider. He's getting better, bit by bit. By "better," I mean he tries to hide. Something is starting to click. Something that says If I do this the other person can still see me. And so, it's Hide and Seek, but it's more than that. This is big.
A few days ago, Ethan was building train tracks at the top of the stairs. "Come and look!" he called to me, and so I walked up the stairs and took a quick peek from the second stair from the top. "Wow, I see it!" I replied excitedly.
"How did you see it? Where did you see it from?" he asked, walking over. I told him.
"You could see it from that step?" He came closer. He stepped on the step to see if I was telling the truth.
The next day, he built a huge block tower with a path of blocks leading to the front and from the back of the tower. Again, he called me to see.
"There's a path in the front and the back," he said proudly.
"I know. I can see it from here," I answered.
"You can?" He seemed surprised. Again, he walked over to where I stood, seeing for himself.
In that little moment, I knew. I could almost see the wheels turning in his brain. I'm no scientist; I'm just a mom. But I could see how Theory of Mind takes shape. It IS all about taking another's point of view. Sometimes literally. Something in his mind was saying, She's over there. It looks different from over there. I have to see for a moment. I have to take a look.
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