Monday, January 15, 2007

theory of mind

Here's my football boys, all ready for the big game (divisional playoffs, where our beloved New England Patriots beat the odds and beat the team with the best record this year). Jacob's ultimate football hero is Tom Brady -- kid's got good taste. Zoo Boy just likes to dress the part, he's not particularly into sports.

ANYWAY, what I really want to talk about today is Theory of Mind (TOM). TOM is the understanding a person has that other people have their own thought proccesses that are not directly connected to that person's own thought proccess. This is a developmental thing that comes along as typical kids' brains are doing all the amazing things that typical kids' brains do while they are toddling around. By 3 years of age, Theory of Mind is in place. For a typical child, that is. TOM is often entirely missing for a child with ASD.

There's a quick and easy way to test for TOM. In the presence of the child you're testing plus one other person, you hide an object, then have the other person leave the room. You then, in view of the child, move the object to a different hiding location. Then you ask the child where he/she thinks the other person will think it is. A child with TOM will point to the original hiding spot, realizing that the other person has no idea that we moved the object. A child without TOM will point to the place the object is actually hiding.

I did this test recently with my kids, spurred on by a discussion about TOM on an internet list, and at the suggestion by others who've met Jacob, seen how "well" he's doing, and thought he must have TOM in place now. I knew he didn't, but I figured I'd test it out anyway, in case I wasn't right. So I set it up to test both my kids. I hid a ball under a pillow with both my kids present, sent one out of the room, then moved the ball to under a box, and asked the child watching me where the other would think the ball was. Zoo Boy immediately giggled (getting the trick) and pointed to the pillow. When I did the same test with Jacob, we had different results.

First, we had a bit of a receptive language problem. When I initially asked him where he thought Zoo Boy would think the ball was, he pointed to a totally different location (misinterpreting what I was asking him -- he was picking a new location to hide the ball). So I narrowed his choices down and explained it a bit more simply. He immediately chose the box the ball was now hiding in. No TOM. No surprise to me. Probably a surprise to a lot of folks that see how "well" Jacob is doing these days.

So, why are we still lacking in TOM when he's doing so well with everything else?

Because we haven't addressed it yet, of course. Jacob's Autism is a pretty simple thing -- he didn't have much from the higher RDI stages before we started the program, so it's truly been a step-by-step process for him. A lot of kids aren't like that -- the Aspergery-type kids often have quite a bit of stuff "going on" up in their heads, and their ASD deficits are more like holes in their development, rather than the "blank slate" my kid is. The stage work we've focused on up to this point in our RDI program has helped Jacob out with his social development and communication ability. But we've only just started to scratch the surface of TOM.

Which is why I think this next year is going to be the most exciting for us so far. We're going to be addressing those things that no only help Jacob to LOOK and ACT more like a typical kid (which have been our focus up to this point, and successfully so, there aren't many folks out there that would guess he's got Autism), but now we're focusing on the things that will help him THINK more like a typical kid. I have no doubt that by this time next year, Jacob will "get" the ball hiding game and will have the TOM to realize that Zoo Boy has no way of knowing that we moved the ball.

It's going to be a GREAT year!


At 3:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You've addressed here a concern I've always had with the "Sally-Anne" test for TOM - it seems to me that it requires very high receptive language skills. It's a subtle shade of meaning, after all, between "Where will Anne look for the marble?" to "Where will Anne find the marble?" Even if you grasp the concept of Anne searching for the marble, it could be difficult to completely set aside your first, simplest interpretation of the question.

(I've been reading your blog for awhile now - I really appreciate how thorough your introduction of RDI has been!)

At 6:48 PM, Blogger Harvest Mom said...

Yeah, that might be, tho I'm pretty sure Jacob understood what I was asking when I rephrased it for him. It was backed up by his reaction to Zoo Boy looking under the pillow -- he obviously was baffled that Zoo Boy didn't know it was under the box. So in our case, it was an accurate test of TOM, but if a child DOES have TOM but not very good receptive language, I can see how you might get a fasle result. Then again, I don't know of many parents who are surrpised at a TOM test -- if you're parent, you've got a pretty good idea whether or not your child understands this concept! :-)

At 8:55 AM, Anonymous Karen said...

Very intersting. I love things like this. I admire your curiosity. Ben does not have TOM, but, it opens up creative options to explore.


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