What is Theory of Mind (ToM)?

Theory of Mind is the ability to understand that not all people share the same thoughts and feelings as you.  Without Theory of Mind, our conversations would be repetitive, disjointed and most likely insult our communication partners, or worse, bore them silly.  Sound familiar?  Children with ASD have difficulty with Theory of Mind and develop these skills in a different order than typical developing children.

Theory of Mind is part of the foundation for language and social skill acquisition through developing the ability to understand that representations generated in one’s mind do not necessarily reflect the real world. We see Theory of Mind in action when infants between the ages of 12-18 months look in the direction that someone is pointing rather than at the finger itself (joint attention). We see it in our toddlers who engage in pretend play and can distinguish between real and imaginary play schemas.

As our ASD children continue to navigate their way through their school careers, peer interactions become an increasing challenge.  Not addressing the root of the problem is a common error, as we tend to want to fix what “we see” or hear, without realizing what the root of the problem is.  ASD children often have what we call “splinter skills”, which are skills that go beyond their typical developmental expectation. However, skills that we would expect them to have mastered are not yet developed.  An example of this would be a child who can “rote” read the words, but does not understand the basic vocabulary to comprehend the meaning of them, and as a result misinterpret or do not understand the passage. As parents, we want our children to communicate, and we are overjoyed when they can convey basic needs such as hunger, pain or sadness. However, the intricacies of language development go beyond this basic communication. As a result, higher language and cognitive development depend on continuing to address Theory of Mind in our children diagnosed with ASD.

In developing an effective and efficient therapeutic program for our children with ASD, it is essential that ABA and speech therapy professionals work closely together to continue to build fundamental language skills while simultaneously furthering the study of Theory of Mind.

At Optimus Outcome, we have built a multidisciplinary model that focuses on this philosophy when addressing Theory of Mind so that we may continue to meet optimal outcomes for our clients. Our ABA and speech therapy teams collaborate together to address skills such as:

  • Inferencing/predicting
  • Sequencing
  • Use of descriptive language
  • Pragmatic language skills
  • Perspective taking
  • Developing appropriate play skills
  • Continued receptive and expressive language development

At Optimus Outcome, fundamental language skills are reinforced and practiced so that generalization can occur across environments and communication partners. It is our goal to use language in a meaningful and flexible way so that these issues may be targeted.