Challenging understandings of 'theory of mind': a brief report

Brownlow, Charlotte and O'Dell, Lindsay (2009). Challenging understandings of 'theory of mind': a brief report. Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 47(6) pp. 473–478.



Researchers have proposed numerous theories to explain autism, ranging from those that are psychologically focused to those influenced by biology and neurology. Many theories of autism share the assumption that there is a deficit in people with autism that should be researched, classified, and, ultimately, modified if the hypothesis suggests that this may be possible. Therefore, the common link among these theories is an assumption that there is something wrong with the person with autism. One highly influential theory purporting to explain the characteristics of autism is that they are caused by an inability to understand others' mental states; in other words, autistic people are considered to lack a "theory of mind." This theory is dominant in explanations of autism, with significant influence within the professional field and in constructions of the person with autism. In this article, we critically examine the theory of mind hypothesis using empirical analysis of online material in which neurodiverse adults, including some who identified with the label of autism, reflected on theory of mind. Neurodiversity is a term that was initially conceived by people with autism in their reframing of deficits and differences and first appeared in an academic essay by Judy Singer in 1999. There has been a call for neurodiversity to be recognized and considered among with the more familiar categories of gender, class, and race (Singer, 1999).

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