Theory of Mind and Autism

    Theory of mind allows individuals to differentiate between one’s own mental states and another’s mental states. Self-awareness is a key aspect of theory of mind. With theory of mind, you know someone may know information that you don’t, and vice versa. One key aspect of autism is that one may have difficulty understanding another person’s mind, which directly relates to theory of mind. 3-4 year olds that don’t have autism tend to understand that the brain has multiple mental states, such as dreaming, thinking, and keeping secrets, however only some knew of its physical functions. Children with autism were the opposite, and knew the physical functions, but disregarded the mental functions.

    Children with autism also have issues distinguishing against appearance and reality, while children without autism don’t. There are also many more differences involved with theory of mind and children with autism versus children who don’t have autism. The biggest difference in my opinion is the ability to understand that people have different thoughts about the same situation. Children without autism are able to understand this concept. Children with autism have a hard time with shifting their perspective off of their own thoughts and onto other people's thoughts. Relating to other people and their perspectives, children with autism have a hard time grasping the causes of emotions.


    Deception is a huge part of daily life. Individuals will deceive others, both for their own benefit, and for other individuals benefits. Deception relates to theory of mind because you must understand other’s minds well enough in order to deceive them. Children without autism show an interest in deception as early as 4 years old. In comparison, children with autism have a hard time deceiving people/wanting to deceive people and with recognizing when another person is deceiving them.


Powell, R. A., Symbaluk, D. G., & Honey, P. L. (2023). Introduction to learning and behavior. Cengage.

Baron-Cohen, Simon. (2001). Theory of Mind in normal development and autism. Prisme. 34.


  1. Your observations about autism make sense. I would add that a key element to autism is also a lack of empathic responses. A child with autism will likely develop a theory of mind as they age, but their ability to gain an empathy response from others could remain stilted. This lack of empathy could contribute to the difficulty people with autism can have with detecting instances of deception.


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