Theory of Mind is the ability to understand that other people have thoughts, feelings, interests and points of view of their own. In autism, it is a commonly held belief that autistic individuals do not have this ability, along with a difficulty understanding the actions and emotions of others. In part two of his ‘Theory of Mind’ series, Dr. Gutstein talks about where he believes the breakdown in autism happening and what is really missing: the parent/child Guiding Relationship. (to listen to part one of the series go here)

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Full Transcript

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 do encourage you that growth for your child is possible. I’m Kat Lee and in this week’s podcast, doctor Gutstein continues his conversation with us about theory of mind.

Dr. Gutstein: So what are we doing? You know, even if you develop this sort of metacognitive ability to at the same moment you’re participating in the now, reserving part of your mind to think about what that person really means and thinks, even if one could do that. All right? Um, there’s all these years before anybody can do that in development. Does that mean they can’t have conversations until they’re teenagers? And in fact, teenage conversation, you have to be able to look beyond that.

Dr. Gutstein: So there’s no friendships before that? There’s no relationship? What are people doing, what are we doing? How do we have interactions? How do we have engagements? How do we have relationships? Well, it’s not by doing that, it’s not by theory of mind, right? And again, it doesn’t mean that, away from that constant stream we can’t consider, we can’t take time to empathize and especially if there’s moments when we see somebody hurting and there’s not a continual stream of things, we can stop and go offline periodically. If we’re there, if the person’s there and empathize, think about how they might be feeling. There’s times when that’s possible, but I’m just having my regular back and forth conversation that keeps flowing. How does that even work?

Dr. Gutstein: How does it not go off the tracks all the time? Well, of course it does go off the tracks all the time and I want to make a plea here to rather than consider. Because see, that comes from a position of you and me as separate. Of course we are separate, but that’s trying to analyze. There’s a you and there’s a me and I’ve got to go back and forth through the analyzing the you and the me and all those different levels and it doesn’t work. It just doesn’t work. But what happens if we still focus on the we? Okay, as the unit that we monitor: the we.

Dr. Gutstein: So when we start to focus on how are we doing and that becomes an automatic, sort of background monitoring when you’re with another person, how are we doing? Anytime we’re in a dynamic, I’m not talking about a scripted thing. I’m not talking about the elevator. I’m talking about a ongoing, cognitive relationship, what happens if we focus on the we? Okay?

Dr. Gutstein: Now what’s interesting is I want you to think about how we can then move, if we focus on the we, we can move from very early on, like in the second year of life, focusing on our actions, our bodies moving in the world, the things we do, our activity, our actions, the flow of our actions, our synchrony, whether we’re coordinated things, things we do in RDI, right, as we start to … and then to gradually add variation. Each of us improvises a little bit more in those and it’s focused on how are we doing and we want children to learn about the we. Is it was a breaking down? Are we in sync? Are we coordinated?

Dr. Gutstein: And we want that to become very much an automatic background process. Now take that prototype, and we see that over years and years gradually evolve, how that eventually evolves. So it evolves from we and our bodies to we in common ground when we’re working with some object or working on some toy or something, right? We as shared focus of attention, right? To pointing and you know, sharing attention that way in the world to things, to very gradually over a period of years to the we becoming internal. To becoming are we in sync? Do we feel like we’re in the same place? And that’s a very basic feeling. It’s not an intellectual, analytical concept. It’s an ongoing feel of being in sync with other people that starts out right after the end of infancy and then continues to evolve and become more complex in the sense of the topic, the area of sync, but also remain something that we feel, an intuitive feeling of being in sync with each other.

Dr. Gutstein: And contrast that. Now, let me just point that out. That if we think of that as the basic monitoring that’s going on in that relationship and that interaction, then there’s a point where we say, oh, the we’s not working and we get that feeling. Then, we might devote some resources to wondering, uh oh, what’s going on. Right? Is there some difference, a breakdown between what I’m feeling, what they’re feeling, how are they feeling? Thinking where we are, the topic, you know, what’s going on and then we can better communicate about that, trying to repair it or just make an adjustment in ourselves, whatever. And that gives us then a place, times, where we can devote those additional resources, go offline temporarily. Even say, wait a minute.

Dr. Gutstein: We can even say, wait a minute to the person. I think we’re not in sync here. Let me think for a second. I think I’m not getting it. We can stop. We have stopping points. We can pause. People do that all the time. And we can better communicate, we can repair, we can, you know, adjust the framework if you will. The conceptual framework. “I thought we were going to talk about this,” or adapt it or revise it and do all those neat things that we can do.

Dr. Gutstein: But if we don’t maintain that focus on the we, then this other route is impossible. It’s impossible to do. So, what I’m focusing on is that, and then even just focusing on the we is hard enough, right? Even that focus on the we because how much we is sufficient? How in sync or coordinated do you need to be with somebody?

Dr. Gutstein: Well, it depends on the person. Again, all those factors. If it’s again, somebody in an elevator, who cares. If it’s a best friend, it may be much more important. Although it may be less important than somebody you’re just meeting and you want to be friends with or somebody you’re romantically interested in, right? Then it’s got to be really powerful. Right?

Dr. Gutstein: But an old friend, you can go off a little bit and not be as much, how much about three year olds and four year old with four year olds and four year olds and five or they go off a lot of breakdowns in that we and they don’t care. They afford each other a lot of that. Right? It depends, right?

Dr. Gutstein: So that’s hard enough. What I’m submitting is that, we all don’t worry about all that other stuff. Well, there’s two tracks. We make the distinction between the offline and the online.

Dr. Gutstein: So yes, we need to teach children to reflect and you know, that’s so much a part of our program to be able to bookmark something, maybe something that doesn’t work or maybe something that does work. We have a whole lot of work on that. But then later to be able to develop the habit of reflection and saying, well, two things. One is, what do I want to say? What is the sample of my experience that I think might be helpful in the future or what didn’t make sense there? What didn’t work out, what surprised me, what didn’t I like about it and I have to think about? So that reflection is so important. That being able to be offline and use your mind is so important. But to be able to make a distinction between that and when you’re going online and when you’re in the midst of something and the idea that in the midst of that interaction, you can’t do that.

Dr. Gutstein: You have to develop another sense of being in that flow of, is it working? Are we okay? Without even saying those words, right? Just this ongoing feeling of being in sync, that sort of harmonious feeling of being in sync with another person. And then there’s sort of uneasiness that will eventually come to the floor and hopefully quickly when it’s moving, passing some threshold of being not in sync that leads you to then say, okay I gotta stop a second and consider that.

Dr. Gutstein: So you’re not always considering all those things. It’s already enough to do that. So, when I think in RDI, we want to think about that the coordinating our actions as a beginning step that yes, we want our children to work, and we want to also think about online. Think about you as a mind guide because you have those two roles, especially early on in development where you’re acting as a potential preparing that child for peer to peer if you will, engagements, right?

Dr. Gutstein: And then you’re acting as someone who helps them to continually raise the bar on what is we from their actions, starting with very simple coordinated actions with not a lot of variations to you starting to add variations to both of you in a more improvised way doing that, but still retaining actions to per sections to attention and shifting that in a more dynamic way to eventually ideas, right? Co-creating, feelings. Right?

Dr. Gutstein: But remembering that has to take years. That’s not something you’re going do in the lessons of weeks. If in typical development it takes years, you’re not going to make it go faster. Maybe you can take some shortcuts, but it’s still a years long process, and it has to be one step at a time. So there’s that role for the relationship, for the mind guide, right? And then as I said, there’s there’s the offline and the online roles and they’re two different roles.

Dr. Gutstein: One is a facilitator, right? You’re helping them to think about how to reflect in the world, how did become more aware of their feelings, how to use their imagination productively, how to think about futures, how to form knowledge about themselves, how to go out in the world themselves and continue to do that. Ask, and discover and explore.

Dr. Gutstein: And then there’s the second role, which is sort of a partner preparing them for these dynamic online engagements, which is, it continues to happen, but it becomes less and less of your role as they go out into the world.

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. And we encourage you that growth for your child is possible. I’m Kat Lee, see you next time.


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