This amazing bit today from Susanne Antonetta’s A Mind Apart:
One persistent theory of autism—I would call it a bias—holds that autistics have no “theory of mind,” defined as the ability to recognize or infer the mental life of another person. No theory of mind, the thinking goes, leads to a lack of empathy. Many clinicians still believe this.
Autistics argue they may develop a theory of mind later than neurotypicals, but the compensation for this later development is a theory of mind that’s far more sophisticated, that recognizes the uniqueness of each individual’s mental life.
Neurotypical theory of mind tends to infer the mental state of others by following the rules of one’s own. As one clinician puts it, the autistic may rely on a not-like-me awareness of the other, rather than a like-me awareness. A contributor to the Institute for the Neurological Typical addresses theory of mind this way: the neurotypical theory of mind is that everyone thinks like me, while the neuroatypical theory would be that everyone’s mind is “vastly and mysteriously” different from my own.
“Have you ever noticed that ‘normal’ people cannot think about the possibility that each person might live in a separate world?” he asks.
I have not polled normal people to see whether or not they can think this. I know it has been clear to me since childhood, when each set of eyes that passed me, including those of my closest family, seemed like windows in a jetliner taking off, never clearly visible and becoming invisible in no time at all.
What this section made me realize is that early in my life I held a neurotypical theory of mind, in that I believed everyone thought and felt the same way I did. Now my theory of mind is firmly neuroatypical. I know no one thinks like I do. Even other folks with bipolar disorder have very different universes swirling in the vastness of their minds. We do manage to enter each others’ orbits on occasion, but I’ll never again make the mistake of assuming anyone else populates my planets.