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Theory of Mind Issues Potentially Symptomatic of Autism

Discussion in 'General Autism Discussion' started by Uncertainty, Oct 15, 2019.

  1. Uncertainty

    Uncertainty New Member

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    First off, let me start by saying that the next three paragraphs may get confusing due to how difficult this issue is to describe, and if it turns out its all totally incoherent, skipping ahead to the example that follows might be easier.

    Anyway, I think I'm experiencing theory of mind issues, and I'm wondering if it's indicative of autism. Specifically, I've noticed that, when talking with other people, sometimes I struggle to determine what to make of the things they say or do and worry about what they will make of the things I say or do. When someone says or does something, there will unavoidably be several potential indications to discern from it. These indications may or may not be intentional or even factually accurate.

    When looking at the things other people do or say, sometimes I'll feel a bit uncertain. For example, I'll feel like someone's trying to subtly express negative feelings towards me or something I've done, but there might not have actually been any such feelings. Sometimes I'll recognize that, although what someone said or did could possibly indicate this or that, it probably doesn't, but I'll still have trouble ignoring that possibility. When I run into difficulties like these, it sometimes leads leads to overly "strategic" responses which attempt to simultaneously account for multiple possible indications.

    When writing a response, I'll spend an excessive amount of time concerning myself with what people will make of it. For example, I'll try to write in such a way that my attitude (whether towards the reader, subject, or otherwise) won't be misunderstood. Other times, I'll try to combat things people might have silently assumed (usually but not exclusively based on something I've said or done). In these cases, I try to be subtle - disputing accusations that haven't actually been voiced tends to reinforce them.

    Below is an example of an exchange between a friend and me that showcases some of the issues described above.

    [7:08 PM] Friend: Uggghh work is finally over ;~;
    [7:09 PM] Me: Good ^^ Guessing the day kind of dragged on?
    [7:15 PM] Friend: y e s
    [7:15 PM] Friend: hug
    [7:16 PM] Me: hugs back tightly. "Don't take this the wrong way, but um... is everything alright?"
    [7:17 PM] Friend: raises an eyebrow. "What do you mean? I don't mind you asking..."
    [7:24 PM] Me: Sorry - it's just hard for me to flat-out ask things sometimes >.< It just kind of sounded like you might've had a rough day.

    On reading his first message, I felt somewhat unsure whether he was just being playfully over the top or if something had upset him. I considered directly asking if something was wrong, but I worried that would come across as some sort of accusation of being whiny. I decided to make a point of sharing his relief that work was over then asking him a question that would give him room to mention anything that was bothering him. His response mentioned no such thing, and I would've just thought "well, that answers that" and moved on, but the fear that something might be up lingered, and I ended up pressing the question. When he expressed confusion, I responded by spending roughly seven minutes trying to draft an explanation of my thought process, worrying that, in saying that I didn't want to come across as calling him whiny, I might inadvertently instill or validate that fear, and deciding whether or not going into depth like this would come across as naive.

    I'd like to ask if anyone here recognizes the uncertainty I'm describing. Has anyone personally experienced this? Does it sound like autism?
     
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  2. SDRSpark

    SDRSpark Well-Known Member V.I.P Member

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    I have these issues. It confuses me, because I definitely think I'm more perceptive than average (this could be a fallacy though). But it takes me a long time to process what I perceive. So I notice everything right away, but it can take hours, days or even weeks for me to make sense of it.
     
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  3. SusanLR

    SusanLR Well-Known Member

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    I don't know if that is a part of autism, but, I go through this all the time with people I care about.
    I want to say more if I feel something is not right, or maybe I want to express more on how I care,
    but, I feel I should just leave it alone with just the most simple expressions or questions.
    I'm always afraid they will think I am not minding my own business if I am too questioning and it
    will annoy them.
    So I try to give them room to answer on their own if they want to vent or elaborate.

    Also I may feel I want to let them know how much I care, they are dear to me and I'll always be there
    but, I don't know how they might take it.
    Again, they might feel I am being pushy and I am over doing the friend routine.
    They might even think I am trying to be flirty or indicative of having romantic feelings when I don't
    and that could spoil a friendship.
    It's like I never know how far to go with what I say and I feel I may be too blunt with open
    straightforward words.
    This leaves me thinking should I have said more?
     
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  4. Progster

    Progster Gone sideways to the sun V.I.P Member

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    Yes, I experience this. Both in face to face conversations and written communication. In face to face convos, I find tone of voice hard to interpret, and in writing, there is no tone of voice at all, so unless the other person leaves an emoticon, you just have to guess at their mood and their thoughts, it's open to interpretation and easy to make mistakes. Emojis can help a lot with this. In both cases, I find it hard to 'read between the lines'.

    In this particular conversation, what I don't get is y e s written with a space between each letter... what is that meant to convey?
     
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  5. Autistamatic

    Autistamatic He's just this guy, you know? V.I.P Member

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    You should look up alexithymia, which would explain pretty much everything you've described in relation to feelings. Statistically you're 5 times more likely to be alexithymic than autistic. One can be both of course, but the emotional disconnection you describe points in that direction.
     
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  6. Streetwise

    Streetwise very cautious contributor V.I.P Member

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    I am an example of permanently on guard to keep foot out of mouth .I do not cope with confrontation what so ever, it doesn’t help that another part of me is autistic, being emotionally younger than a two-year-old does not make life easy, what I know of basic psychology !you can have lack! of socialisation ,which would imitate autism but! the difference is ,if you were taught social manners ,you would change ,that is where autistic people part company with neuro typical people, I can try till I’m blue in the face I don’t change, I can try to imitate, that is all I can do.
     
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  7. AHClemist

    AHClemist noble gas

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    I can definitely relate to writing in a way that cannot be misunderstood. I find it especially difficult to respond in text to a superior. I'm in that phase of college (europe) where I am beginning to work more closely with the professors. When I was younger, I always opted for just being super polite and attentive. It's still my go-to when I meet someone new, but now that the hierarchy is schrinking, I find myself increasingly uncertain how to phrase my responses or requests. It takes me a long time until the profs offer me the more informal way of adressing them, because something in the way I behave makes them think I'm more comfortable with the formal version.

    I prefer fance-to-face conversations, since they give me the option of simply mirroring the degree of formality and way of speaking of the other person. Apart form that, I usually expect to have misunderstood expressions of emotion and don't react positively or negatively.

    Like Streetwise, I do not like confrontation or larger displays of emotion by other people, because I have a hard time responding to them appropriately. I will usually try to get out of such a situation as quickly and quietly as possible.
     
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  8. Uncertainty

    Uncertainty New Member

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    That's a mannerism some people have taken to lately. Sometimes people put spaces between each letter of a word to add a certain kind of emphasis. Although it could be taken as speaking slowly or deliberately, it's almost consistently used as a playful way to indicate enthusiasm (often to humorously overstated or even ominous effect). In this case, I might have thought it was meant to come across as the former as a sarcastic way of indicating the answer was obvious, but given how it's typically used (especially as far as the person in question - his writing is very whimsically expressive) and the context, I took it for the latter.
     
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  9. Kalinychta

    Kalinychta Well-Known Member

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    Your struggles are related to empathy, not theory of mind. Theory of mind is difficult to explain, but basically it's the ability to understand that other people have minds (beliefs, thoughts, experiences, etc.) separate from your own. Like how when really young kids cover their eyes and think you can't see them since they themselves can't see anything. Or someone who doesn't brush the back of his hair, only the front (he thinks that if he can't see the back of his head, then other people can't either). I used to wear this sweater all the time that had a stain on the back, because I thought that if I couldn't see the stain, no one else would notice it either. (And when I say "think" I don't mean a conscious, deliberate thought as such; it's automatic and unconscious usually.) Or a lot of autistic people will talk nonstop about an interest they have, not understanding that others may not share their interest and therefore don't want to hear about it for long periods of time.

    Empathy, on the other hand, is the ability to understand the thoughts and feelings of others. So, you understood that your friend had a bad day; you just weren't quite sure how bad it was and if it was appropriate for you to ask more about it (and if so, what/how to ask). (A theory of mind-related problem here would be for example if your friend started talking about his feelings and reactions to his bad day without explaining what actually happened because he automatically assumed that you already knew what happened since he himself knew. I do this all the time.)

    Anyway, your response to your friend might have sounded a little "dramatic" to him, but overall it was okay. If you had just asked if everything was okay without telling him that you weren't sure if you should ask (etc.), that would have been better and wouldn't have led to confusion.
     
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2019
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