How autism affects understanding

Some children and young people with autism may find it difficult to see things from other people’s point of view.  This can be explained by having a difficulty with Theory of mind (Baron-Cohen, Leslie & Frith 1985).

This is a cognitive theory, which based on the concept that some individuals with autism do not understand that others have their own plans, thoughts, and points of view. Furthermore, it suggests that some individuals with autism may have difficulty understanding their own emotions and the emotions, beliefs and attitudes of others.

Theory of Mind may, therefore, clarify observed difficulties encountered by individuals when understanding social cues stemming from beliefs, attitudes and emotions of others which may lead to their exclusion in social situations.

Implicit and Spontaneous Theory of Mind Reasoning in Autism Spectrum Disorders” Beate Sodian, Tobias Schuwerk and Susanne Kristen

For example, because a child or young person with autism may find it difficult to understanding that other people can have different beliefs or desires from them, they may find it challenging to understand and predict the behaviour of others and to understand how their behaviour may affects others, why others may get upset.  This can often be due because of a lack of understanding of social cues and or facial experiences and gestures.

The understanding of being able to see other people’s perspectives is an important social skill, which typically developing children may develop at approximately between 3-5 years old, but may take much longer for individuals with autism to develop.

Without this skill, children and young people with autism can find it hard to understand and get along with other people. Therefore, their ability to develop friendships can be limited as they may lack capacity to understand other people’s emotional expression.   This can be particularly upsetting and frustrating for both the individual with autism, their peers and family members.