Perspective Taking

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Naughty Nicholas


The names have not been changed to protect the anonymity of the players.

“Stop it Nicholas!” he barks at a sandy haired little boy. My boys look at Nicholas and stop doing what they are doing.
“Not like that! Here do it this way. Are you listening to me?” Nicholas isn't listening. My boys are listening. They are both unusually quiet, uncommonly still.
“Geez you're so dumb sometimes. Squeeze the red button why dontcha?” Nicholas doesn't squeeze the red button. Nicholas' Dad helps Nicholas' thumb squeeze the red button, “there. See? That's how you do it.”

“Ouch!” squeaks Nicholas. Two additional 'ouches' echo, but Nicholas' Dad doesn't notice. I think I dislike Nicholas' Dad, but say nothing. I say nothing because one of my sons is wrapped around my ankles and I'm carrying a six and a half year old, the epitomy of an over protective and incompetent parent. We wait. It will be our turn soon. I remind myself that we all have bad days. I would not like anyone to closely observe one of our bad days. I remind myself that we are enjoying an exceptionally good day. Lucky us!

I am surprised that my boys are waiting so patiently. I am also surprised that they appear to be watching with close care and intense attention.

One of my boys learns by observation. He will watch whilst somebody else does a task. He'll watch again, and again, and again, until he's ready. When he's ready he will make his first attempt. He rarely gets it right the first time. No-one is allowed to help him. He will scream uproariously with each attempt until he finally masters the new skill.

We watch and learn.

“Give me that,” snaps Dad, as he wrestles the controls from Nicholas. Nicholas pulls a face, so do my boys. “Enough with the attitude!” snarls Nicholas' dad. I shift the weight on my hip a little as Nicholas looks at me with a clear blue gaze. I smile a bit, then I remember that my teeth are no longer off limits. I flash him my enamel with a glint of retainer. He smiles back. “Pay attention Nicholas or you'll never learn anything.” His head snaps back to his dad. “Don't' you know it's rude to stare at…. er……. people!” I glance away because I suspect that I am blushing or blanching.
“Yes dear.”
“I am stare at people?”
“Oh no, I don't think you ever stare at people, at least not that I've noticed.”
“I am rude?”
“No, not rude.”
“We are have a turn?”
“Yes, we shall soon.”

I think perhaps Nicholas' dad overhears us.

“Come on Nicholas. Lets give these guys a turn, you're no good at it anyway.” Nicholas' dad pulls Nicholas from the seat and moves off to another exhibit. My son unravels himself from my feet and tiptoes cautiously onto the empty, warm seat. My other son slowly and gently slithers down from my hip and steps tentatively towards the same seat. It is very quiet. Their two little bottoms shuffle a bit to make room for each other.
“O.k. let see if we can get this thing to work,” I offer, seeing as how I am a poor teacher in the technology department. Two little faces turn towards me. They are not smiling even though they now have the opportunity to exploit their time and enjoy the activity that they have waited for so patiently.
“Yes dear?”
“Nicholas' dad is naughty.”

It's not a question, it's a statement.

By other parents, such as myself have committed greater “crimes.”

How do you spread a little luck and rats to the “theory of mind?”

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Perseveration with a sprinkling of OCD [on the side]

“I don't think he cares one way or another, as long as they serve chips. [translation = French Fries]
“True, but so many restaurants don't have any cruet.”
“I know, but there again, if they have anything, they usually have the salt.”
“Unless we go to an Italian, then you have two foot of pepper mill being lobbed around by some minor, but not a salt cellar in sight!”
“Odd combination really. There again, if we go Italian, there probably won't be any chips either.”
“It's so strange.”
“Strange. A very strange country.”
“Mind you, if he carries on the way he is, we could probably do with avoiding that particular perversion.”
“True, I don't think people understand.”
“Well it's so unhygienic, regardless of the other health risks.”
“Still, nobody noticed last time.”
“That was over three months ago now, and they did, notice, that is to say.”
“The last time we went to a restaurant?”
“Yes. So he's not really had the opportunity in the meantime.”
“Do you still have the salt cellar locked up?”
“Oh yes. Stuffed at the back of the cupboard, the one full of cereal.” [translation = disguised by the horror of the equivalent of barbed wire, that is breakfast cereal.]
“Oooo! I’ve just thought! Do you think we could count it as a ‘new food’?”
“Food? More like a chemical or an additive.”
“I like that. We count the additive.”
“Well, I don’t know, might be considered cheating.”
“Well if salt is a chemical, then so is water, H2O and all that.”
“Gosh. I just had a thought too! He drinks water. Water isn’t part of his 13 foods.”
“You’re a genius! That means we’ve hit 14 foods without even trying.”
“How come we never thought of that before?”
“At this rate of progress, he won’t be a neo any more.” [translation = neophobic, a person who eats less than 20 foods]
“She didn't look very happy at the time.”
“The server.”
“Which server?”
“At the restaurant.”
“Right! When she lifted the tablecloth to see a six year old chugging down on a salt shaker.”
“Hmm, I think it was the other three empty ones that he'd stolen from the other tables that freaked her out.”
“Just think, he'll live for ever, like a little pickled er………”
'No, er……?”
“Pickled egg? Roll mop herring, pepper, walnut……?”
“Hardly! And none of those are American.”
“What then?”
“Oh I know, Gherkin!”
“Ah! Dill pickle! Actually, they're all in vinegar. H must be more like an anchovy!”
“Hmm, he's certainly swimming against the tide.”

Health Warning – each salt cellar only a few grains in them
Healthy Note – many children and some autistic ones, enjoy lining things up
Caution – don't try this at home. [translation = or in a restaurant]

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The Theory of mind and other minor irritations – don’t cry for Pluto, who still has chums

I do not like the “Theory of Mind.” A few years ago I’d never heard of it and didn’t know what it was. With the arrival of a couple of autistics chaps in our family, I rapidly became aware of this pernicious irritation. For current purposes, we may simply say that it is an inability to put yourself in the shoes of another. [
I would respectfully guide you to a more scholarly account of the dratted theory at
“a bfh”
as I believe that I know [a few of] my limitations.]

It is a very popular theory with experts. I suspect, but have no evidence in support, that it is not quite so popular in other pockets of the population. The hot bed of loathing against this theory, resides right here, within the four walls of my home. I see the ‘truth’ of the theory often, daily. But I also see the opposite. “What exactly is the opposite of the ‘theory of mind,'” you ask? Good question as always. Frankly I don’t have the right answer. I don’t know what you call it [offers gratefully received] but I know it when I see it, and I see it often, more often, and soon, perhaps more often that I see incidents of the Theory of mind. I am seriously considering adopting ‘opposites day,’ everyday, where instead of looking for ‘symptoms’ we will search for ‘the opposite’ to counter each and every one of them.

Round here, such issues are complicated by the speech delay factor. How can I know that my child is capable of viewing the world through someone else’s eyes, if he is unable to tell me that this is what he is seeing? Well, if I pay attention, as I sometimes do, they do have other ways of telling me: body language, mimicry, action.

Now that the speech delays are less so than they once were, I only wish I had paid more attention, or had been better at interpreting what they were trying to communicate by other means.

That aside, I am appreciative of the small acts of kindness that the average child bestows upon the world, seemingly with little effort, to melt the heart of a parent.

It’s true, I’m biased and not a scientist. I leave such cerebral exercises to the experts. I’m just a mum, so I’m allowed to make up my own rules. But I do not think that should detract from similar moments displayed by an autistic child. Indeed, lets be totally outrageous and posit that the theory, that autistic children, in many respects, outstrip the limitations of the Theory of Mind with their superior qualities of empathy.

Without digressing into the staggering powers of Temple Grandin in this respect, we can still find many incidents of this phenomenon, in our own autistic children. Not for them the scripted stagnant waters of ‘I’m sorry you hurt your knee,’ together with appropriate facial expression and body language. Oh no, we soar to un-recognised heights of concordance, where little Sally, Boa, Arcadio, Adarsh, Jerzy, Kona and Muhammed, together with their pals from across the globe, acknowledge that Pluto may be too small to be a planet in today’s universe, but that the books that once held truth do not necessarily lie, just because somebody changed the rules.

p.s. Here is a picture of my daughter’s plant grown from seed at school. A long tendril comes out to slip round my son’s asthma inhaler chamber and then further forward to entwine my soap dispenser gizmo.

First of all, they both notice the tendril and where it’s heading. Junior, who has excessive washing tendencies, remarks that ‘maybe the plant needs more air.’ My older son, with asthma, remarks that ‘maybe the plant wants to wash.’

O.k. so I admit it, I’ve indoctrinated my children with respect to the environment, my lesson plan obviously needs a little tweaking, but who is in whose shoes now! Pass me my slippers before I confuse myself any further.

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