When we talk about autism, we often hear that that the biggest concern is social relationships and the inability to relate to others, but Dr. Gutstein explains that it is also (and perhaps more importantly) how the child relates to themself that matters.

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Kat Lee: Welcome back to ASD: A New Perspective, the podcast show where we help you understand what is going on in the mind of your child. We encourage you that growth for your child is possible. I’m Kat Lee and in this week’s podcast, so many times we hear that autism is about social relationships and how the children relate to others. But Dr. Gutstein says it’s also about how the children relate to the self.

Dr. Gutstein: Our job is to say, “Look. We want to see that we’re building those foundations. We’re building resources, the knowledge, the mental tools, the habits, and the motivations.” The intrinsic motivations, really important. We keep building up those abilities in a balanced way together, and we build them in a step by step way, and we teach that child to gradually take ownership of them, of the mental tools and learn how to use them gradually in more different, more challenging real world environments, and take responsibility for them.

But that’s a gradual process. Then we add more complexity and more integration et cetera, and more components. We very carefully nurture the development of each child, of each child’s mind, and self, and brain. Because they’re all together. They’re developing the mind, the self, and the brain, they’re all developing together. They influence each other. There’s no separation between the three. They have to be seen as one organism, right?

The mind, the self, and brain. Same thing, just on different levels. Just like self development, social development are the same thing, just looking at it from different perspectives. There’s the relationship with themself, there’s relationship with themself and others. The relationship with others defines who you are. The relationship with who you are defines how you manage relationships with others.

There’s no, you know, you can’t take those things apart and treat them separately. You can’t teach them discretely. You have to put the, together. Which is another piece of this puzzle, another piece of this model, but I hope we can emphasize for.

Kat Lee: Well, this is something that you’ve impacted me so much on that when we talk about autism, it’s about, a lot of the time talked about social skills and how they’re relating and theory of mind with other people, and other people’s perspective, but you have talked so much about our relationship with ourselves being key, but undiscussed, the self.

Dr. Gutstein: Absolutely, yeah.

Kat Lee: And how it’s the key. You can’t have with others without having with yourself.

Dr. Gutstein: You can’t. The opposite people will be the opposite way, and you can’t have the self without relationships with others. Well when you compare yourself to others, you differentiate yourself from others, you identify with others, right? You learn how to use your mind.

They’re interconnected, they’re parts of a larger process. You don’t want to take that part and just talk about the idea of just go to social skills without self skills, or self skills … The idea of talking about skills even, if you think about it, is a scary thought.

We have to build not behavioral skills, we have to build mental tools, and we have to learn … Those are different than just tricky things and discrete behaviors. Those are ways of thinking and ways of making judgments, and ways of looking at an experience and being able to extract something meaningful from yourself. They’re ways of trying to prepare by considering the future and looking at multiple possible futures by looking at being able to handle multiple points of view and unwinding them.

It’s not just being able to do those things, it’s wanting to do those things. The intrinsic motivation, the desire to challenge yourself to move into more complex, dynamic environments, you need to do those things. You see, if you keep yourself in … If you avoid any kind of expansion of your world, if you hide out in your closet if you will, or your room, you don’t have to develop any of those mental tools. You don’t have to learn to do all those hard things.

So the reason you develop those mental tools is that they have this incredible desire to expand into more challenging areas of the world. To do more on your own, to expand interpersonally, to expand environmentally, to expand and understand more, and try and get more meaning and make sense of more things, which means you’re gonna have more frustration, which means you’re gonna have more confusion and uncertainty, and things are not going to make sense for a little while, right?

But they have an enormous drive to challenge themselves in that way. If you don’t build that drive, if you don’t make sure that motivation is in place, there’s no reason you can’t teach the skills. I mean skills fade away, they have no value, they have no functionality. Along with that you develop the habits of doing that. So for example, if you can’t teach just the skill of developing, we call it experience sample, having an experience and then constructing a sample so that you can save it for later.

If you don’t develop the habit of routinely reviewing what’s going on in your day if you’re not stopping to review, if you’re not stopping to represent it, if you don’t develop that habit of routinely doing that, then you can’t teach the skill. The skill has no value. It has no place, it won’t be performed, so the habits have to be there, the motivations have to be there. The mental tools of how to use your mind.

The evaluation of your mind, by the way, is very important, and a lot of the foundations is the awareness of mind, of feelings, the importance of feelings or using feelings as information. But also of the fact that I have ideas, that I think through things, that I make judgments. Those are things going on in my mind.

Learning to value your mind and other’s minds is much more important than what we call theory of mind skills, or all those skills, because it’s what drives that. The problem we find with autism is not the lack of ability to teach the theory of mind skill. It’s the motivation, it’s the understanding, the intense desire to know minds, to know my own mind, to realize that that’s the key to unlocking more understanding of the world, and more agency and more ability to succeed in the real world.

Actually in my mind myself, understanding who I am, understanding what others have learned. Understanding that you hurt my feelings, tell me, right? All of those things, you know, developing knowledge about myself and others, those are the tools that allow us to be successful.

Kat Lee: And thanks for joining us for ASD: A New Perspective, the podcast show where we help you understand what is going on in the mind of your child. We encourage you that growth for your child is possible. I’m Kat Lee. See you next time.

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