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Suffolk Center for Speech

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What is Theory of Mind? How is it related to Autism?

  • Theory of Mind can be defined as the ability to understand that other people also have their own minds and that their minds are different from our own. It is the understanding that other individuals are able to have their own thoughts, their own feelings, and different perspectives that may or may not differ from ours. Theory of Mind or ToM helps us understand, anticipate and predict behaviors of other people based on our ability to predict what we think they could be thinking. An example of Theory of Mind is, though we may not have fallen off our bike and scraped our knee, we can predict another’s perspective and empathize with our friend who fell off his bike and understand he is feeling upset and hurt. 
  • Theory of Mind can be associated with many of the behaviors that are typically seen in individuals on the Autism Spectrum. Limitations with ToM abilities can manifest in the following ways for individuals on the ASD spectrum:
    • Inability to read emotions, intentions, or cues of others.
    • Limited expression of empathy toward others 
    • Inappropriate responses to emotional expressions of others 
    • Difficulty understanding that their behavior has an effect on others
    • Difficulty with taking turns and asking questions about the other person
    • Difficulty understanding characters in a book or movie or engaging in

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-Amanda D

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