Have I written about this before? I know it’s a large part of that essay by Melanie Yergeau. Anyway, it’s on my mind, so even if I’m repeating her essay in simpler words, I’m going to write this out so I can think through it.
The idea that autistic people (and/or people with other cognitive/ intellectual/ developmental disabilities) lack “theory of mind” is hypocritical.
There’s a sort of background idea that we need to agree on before we can get to this conclusion, which is this:
No one can ever REALLY know what someone else is thinking.
We can only know what they say/write/etc., and how they act. Sometimes people’s words and actions give us enough information to make a pretty good guess about what they’re thinking, but sometimes they don’t give us enough information and we really have no idea.
Most of the time, in our everyday lives, we can talk to people and be pretty sure they’re telling the truth, so we feel like we know what they’re thinking, but we can never really be 100% certain.
So, keeping that in mind– how do we decide that someone has no theory of mind? By looking at their words and actions. We don’t know for certain that someone lacks theory of mind, because no one can be 100% certain of what another person is thinking– which includes how they interpret what they see, why they make the choices they do. All we know is that based on the way they act, saying they don’t have theory of mind seems like a reasonable conclusion. We can’t imagine a plausible reason why someone who did have theory of mind would act the way they do.
We can’t imagine.
So we take the limit on our imagination, and instead, we say it’s a limit on the other person’s imagination.
Instead of saying, “This person’s mind seems to work very differently from mine, so I can’t understand them,” we say “This person’s mind works very differently from mine, and that must mean it works very badly.”
Because we can’t understand how someone’s mind works, we say that that person lacks the ability to understand how other people’s minds work.
And that’s hypocritical.