In Part 1, I explained that I failed a basic, easy test of mentalizing at the same time that I passed a harder, more advanced test, following a pattern of performance that makes sense for me and explains a lot of my social behaviors as an autistic person.
I passed the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (RMET), and I failed the Sally-Anne Test.
I passed the RMET, because the RMET was an explicit assessment of social knowledge:
Look at pictures. Look at words.
Think about pictures. Think about words.
Match words to pictures based on social knowledge.
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
While taking the RMET, I applied my social knowledge, explicitly, to answer the questions as quickly and accurately as possible. I tried hard to answer accurately, because I wanted to get a high score on the test, and I tried harder to answer quickly, because I wanted to finish the test, now Now NOW, to get my high score. The two questions that I missed, Question 34 and Question 35, both appeared near the end of the test, when I had become so abjectly bored with taking the test that I was no longer looking at the words, thinking about the pictures, or applying my social knowledge explicitly.
When I am not applying my social knowledge explicitly, I am applying my social knowledge implicitly, which means that I am not applying much social knowledge at all. Regardless of how much social knowledge I have, I don’t apply much of it, unless I apply it explicitly. I don’t apply it implicitly in the way that most people do.
This is one of the fundamental differences between autistic people and typical people.
Typical people have social knowledge, and they apply it, implicitly and automatically, during social interactions. Autistic people can also have social knowledge, and they can also apply it, but they apply most of it explicitly.
Turn it on. Keep it on. This is the case for autistic people employing social cognition, explicitly.
On. This is the case for typical people employing social cognition, implicitly and automatically.
For autistic people, it takes conscious effort to turn it on and keep it on, while for typical people, it takes conscious effort to turn it down or turn it off. Actually, I don’t know if it’s possible to turn it off, but if it is, then it would take a lot of training, practice, and effort for a typical person to unfollow their natural instinct, just as it would take a lot of the same for an autistic person to do the same.
Which brings me to the Sally-Anne Test and my performance on it.
Question: How did I fail the Sally-Anne Test?
Answer: I followed my natural instinct.
Here are my instructions for how to fail the Sally-Anne Test and be autistic and awesome too:
1) Pay careful attention to the basket, the box, and the marble to observe, understand, and memorize the sequence of events involving these all-important objects.
2) Pay careful attention to the all-important question, “Where
will Sally look for her marble?”
3) Point carefully to the all-important location of the all-important marble to answer the all-important question, “Where
will Sally look for her marble?”
4) Fail the Sally-Anne Test to earn your Over-Easy? Hard-Boiled! Badge for distinguishing yourself in such an autistic and awesome way.
You are autistic!
What is easy is hard, and what is hard is easy! At least according to the standards of others. According to your standards, what is easy is easy, and what is hard is hard. According to all standards, what is easy is following your natural instinct, and what is hard is not.
To answer the Belief Question of the Sally-Anne Test, I had to unfollow my natural instinct to answer the Location Question of the Find-The-Marble Test. My natural instinct was to focus on the physical attributes of the marble, such as its movements and locations, instead of my mental attributions to the doll or myself, such as what the doll thought, what I thought, what I thought about what the doll thought, and what the doll thought about what I thought, assuming that the doll was not autistic and actually thought about what I thought, Jeepers Creepers, stab it, stab it, stab it, before it stabs, stabs, stabs you!
While taking the Sally-Anne Test, I simply forgot to think about these things:
- What Sally thought
- What Anne thought
- What the test-giver thought
- What the test-taker thought
If I had remembered, then I would have passed, because I would also have remembered that I was taking the Sally-Anne Test, not the Find-The-Marble Test, and that I was answering the Belief Question, “Where will Sally look for her marble?”, not the Location Question, “Where
will Sally look for her marble?”
Here are the results of a study employing this experimental paradigm in three groups of children: (1)
- 23 of 27 typical children passed, for a pass rate of 85%
- 12 of 14 children with Down’s Syndrome passed, for a pass rate of 86%
- 4 of 20 autistic children passed, for a pass rate of 20%
- 16 of 20 autistic children failed, for a fail rate of 80%
1 of 1 autistic adults failed, for a fail rate of 100% autistic and awesome!
In a second trial of the experiment, the marble was moved from Sally’s basket to Anne’s box to the test-giver’s pocket, and all the children who had pointed to the location of the marble in the first trial also pointed to the location of the marble in the second trial. If there had been a third trial in which the marble had been moved from Sally’s basket to Anne’s box to the test-giver’s pocket to the test-taker’s pocket, then the children would have pointed to the location of the marble a third time, Finders Keepers, mine, Mine, MINE, My Precious!
In real life, the same pattern applies.
When I am talking to someone about something, my precious marbles are focused on the something, not the someone. I am thinking about the something, the parts of the something, and nothing but the something, not the someone, or what the someone is thinking. To think about that, I would have to remember to think about it, and most of the time, I don’t.
If I did, then I could, but my social knowledge is not really that advanced, despite my high score on the RMET. I know a few of the basics, and that’s about it. In a world where people are not walking around with photographs of their eye regions over their eye regions and a multiple-choice list of mental state words over the rest of their faces, I don’t really know Jack…and Jill went up the hill, and Jill went for the kill…
In real life, I don’t know what other people are thinking about me, themselves, each other, or anything else. The only person whom I have profiled to any significant extent is my mother, and that was only to avert, divert, and subvert the attention of her oculoptical-optocular modules, which bear a striking resemblance to the Eye of Sauron in The Lord of the Rings, except that there are two of them, and they are programmed by nature to fixate their gaze, constantly and incessantly, upon me.
If I tried to learn as much social knowledge as I could, then I could. I have no deficits in the explicit acquisition and application of social knowledge, acquired and applied as any other kind of knowledge is. The difference between me and most people is not that I can’t learn and apply social knowledge at all, but that I don’t do it implicitly to the same extent, or in the same way, as others.
Most people learn social knowledge from socially interacting with people. I don’t. As a child, I didn’t, so I didn’t learn much of anything from socially interacting with people during the rare occasions when I socially interacted with people. Instead, I learned my social knowledge in other ways, not in the first person, but the third, and not from social interactions between myself and others, but others and others. I learned my social knowledge from reading books and watching TV, and that was how I had enough, by adulthood, to do well on the RMET.
Here are my instructions for passing the RMET and being autistic and awesome too:
1) Watch TV, lots and lots and lots of TV.
Watch cartoons like Jem, He-Man, She-Ra, Looney Tunes, and Alvin and the Chipmunks. Collect pictures and videos from cartoons for your mental library of pictures and videos.
2) Read books, lots and lots and lots of books.
Read books like Little House on the Praire, The Boxcar Children, Anne of Green Gables, and the Robot, Empire, and Foundation series by Sci-Fi Grand Master Isaac Asimov. Collect words and sentences and paragraphs from books for your mental library of words and sentences and paragraphs.
3) Watch TV, moar and moar and moar TV.
Watch the made-for-TV movies on the Lifetime Movie Network (LMN), Television For Wacko Axe-Wielding Women. Pay particular attention to the movies in which the blissfully wedded spouses are constantly and incessantly plotting each other’s deaths while tricking each other into upgrading each other’s life insurance policies. Tune in for Pick-A-Flick Monday, Tainted-Love Tuesday, Wacko-Wench Wednesday, Tru-Movie Thursday, and Flick-A-Pick-Through-Your-Fiance’s-Face Friday. Collect pictures and videos of the eye regions of the nutjobs in the movies. On Wednesdays, tune out of LMN to tune into CBS, and pay particular attention to the totally hot profilers on Criminal Minds, as they apply the verbal labels for the mental states of the nutjobs on the show to the mental states of the nutjobs on the show. Based on your foundation of book-reading and TV-watching, learn to apply the verbal labels for the mental states of the people in the pictures to the photographs of the eye regions. Then, apply them to do well on the RMET.
4) Pass the RMET to earn your Hard-Boiled? Over-Easy! Badge for distinguishing yourself, again, in such an autistic and awesome way.
You are autistic!
What is hard is easy, and what is easy is hard! What other people assume that you can’t do, you can do, and what other people assume that you can do, you can’t do. You can learn and apply all kinds of social knowledge in the third person, from the stories that you read, and to the stories that you write, but it just so happens that you can’t remember to do it in the first person, during actual social interactions between yourself and others. It is not your natural instinct to do it, so you only remember to do it every once in awhile. How long this while is varies from you to you to you, so some people remember to do it a lot, and others not not not. How much you know also varies from you to you to you, so some people know a lot lot lot, and others not.
Personally, I know a little, and occasionally, I remember to apply what I know.
Therefore, I am both more and less impaired in social interaction than the popular false beliefs of autism hold to be true. I am less impaired, because I can learn and apply far more social knowledge than people think I can, and I am more impaired, because I can learn and apply far less social knowledge than people think I can in their, not my, way.
In non-social areas, the same pattern applies.
Autistic children, non-verbal, socially aloof, block-stacking, and hand-flapping, can learn and apply far more of every kind of knowledge than people think they can, as long as they learn, and are taught, in their own ways, explicitly.
Explicitly, that is how you teach someone something that is not their natural instinct.
Drawing, I did not learn explicitly. I knew how to draw as soon as I held a pencil in my hand. It was my natural instinct.
Speaking, I learned explicitly. Implicitly, I learned enough during the first eight years of my life to repeat, occasionally, what Bugs Bunny and the weather man said on TV. Then, I was taught, explicitly and in my own way, so I learned enough within a year or two to correct, argue with, and smacktalk my unfortunate parents.
Now, I argue with my mother about the number of eggs that I am allowed to eat per week. She believes that since she and my father both have slightly high cholesterol, that I am genetically endowed with a double dose of slightly high cholesterol, meaning that I will keel over and die of cholesterol poisoning if I eat more than one egg per week. Against me, she uses the fact that my cholesterol has never been measured. When I request evidence that I have high cholesterol, she requests evidence that I have not. Eggscuse me, I am going to get my cholesterol measured to provide this evidence in the future.
Meanwhile, I will continue to eat one egg per week. I can’t help it. No matter how old I get, my mother, with her oculoptical-optocular modules and real live hoooman eyes, continues to maintain a magical mental hold over me, and no matter how young I was, this hold was true.
In the absence of social cognition, when I would have failed each and every test of mentalizing that I was lucky not to take, this hold was true. It is such a strong, pure, simple hold that it needs no reading or minding to hold true. Contrary to scientific dogma, mentalizing is not required for the strongest, purest, simplest attachments of human to human, and mind to mind, each kind of mind kind of blind to each other kind of mind, but kind.
This washes clean another of the popular misconceptions of autism, that autistic people are incapable of love and human attachment.
Autistic people are capable of love and human attachment…
…strong, pure, simple, and nothing but.
1. Baron-Cohen, S., Leslie, A. M., Frith, U. (1985). Does the autistic child have a “theory of mind”? Cognition, 21, 37-46.