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Free ebooks ==> Sharon 67 emotion is then projected onto her mother. Understanding other’s hopes, desires, and motivations might work in a similar way. Beginning in the 1980s, experiments were devised to test this theory of mind (TOM) ability in children with autism and ASD. In the classic experiment, a child with autism is presented with the following scenario either with two dolls or two people: Sally puts a marble into a basket she is carrying and puts it down to go out of the room. Ann takes the marble and places it into a box that she has. When Sally comes back into the room, the child is asked where she will look for the marble: in the basket or the box. A child with good TOM skills will say that Sally will look in the basket because she does not know that Ann has taken the marble and placed it in the box. The child with autism, on the other hand, will state that Sally will look in the box, because he or she will not understand that Sally still thinks the marble is in the basket where she left it. The child with autism cannot read Sally’s mind. It soon became apparent that most children with ASD did in fact have a severe deficit in this area, regardless of the tests used to measure TOM. What was so interesting was that the difficulties in understanding were specific to social situations; they did not apply to inferring simple visual perspectives that were not observable to the viewer. Children with autism could describe what lay behind a mountain or on the other side of a cube. They could describe what somebody else saw but not what the person felt or believed. This difficulty in perspective was also more than an understanding of emotions; it extended to motivations and desires and to all the internal mental states of other people. Both children and adults with ASD seemed unable to make a spontaneous, intuitive inference about the mind of another person and to have a limited ability to understand their own psychological makeup. But it also became apparent that children with other types of developmental problems, like Down syndrome, had difficulties with TOM too, though usually their problems were much milder. There was also some concern that the tests used to measure TOM in fact captured a more primary problem in understanding the words we use to describe these concepts, not the concepts themselves. It may be that the children had trouble understanding the story or the meaning of what happened, not necessarily the mind of the dolls. After all, we have known for a long time that children with autism have considerable difficulties in comprehension and expression of language. But more recent work by Baron-Cohen has shown that even if the test is based on photographs of

68 A MIND APART eyes and so does not require an understanding of verbal concepts, adults with ASD have trouble inferring accurate mental states from these pictures. In this version of the test, a person is confronted with a photograph of the eyes of another person and asked to identify the emotion or motivation experienced by that person. Even the brightest people with ASD have difficulty with this test. The poor communication skills demonstrated by people with ASD can also be explained on the basis of a poor TOM. After all, to build a conversation with someone we have to understand what the other person is expecting in the way of background and context. We have to give the listener what he is expecting in the conversation. During the appointment it was apparent to me that Sharon had no difficulty in using language to communicate her experiences, but I asked her what it was like having a conversation with her husband, her friends, and her clients. She told me she saw herself as engaged in monologues with other people, not conversations. The conversation did not build through mutual discourse. She felt that she talked at people, not with them. To hear what other people were saying she had to translate what they said into her own voice. Moreover, she could remember only her own voice in a conversation: “Sometimes I can extrapolate the other half of the conversation from my remembered reaction. I am immune to what other people say. It’s as if their words have lumped and stuck together like porridge while they talk. I just can’t get the lumps apart to understand them. Instead I chatter on about goodness knows what, based on my own mistaken assumptions.” Sharon reported that other people also found it hard to make sense of her conversation since they often asked for clarification. In retrospect, she could see that she left out facts or else gave too much minute unnecessary detail. Sometimes she realized that she went off on tangents and strayed from the point she was trying to make. All these difficulties in social discourse had to be kept separate from Sharon’s desire for social interaction. She had no wish to be a loner or a recluse. She always craved affection and attention. She was in love with her husband and had a warm relationship with him. She loved her child and enjoyed the company of her few close friends. She had trouble making acquaintances, that was true, but if others were persistent and could see beyond her social gaffes, they were rewarded with her deep and abiding affection. All her life, she had longed for human companionship but had found it only at age fourteen with her first friend, still a friend today, and with people who appreciated her deeper self.