As I wrote in a previous post, I would suggest that the Bear is at least occasionally demonstrating Theory of Mind, despite some expert opinions that ToM in autistics is impaired, deficient, or non-existent (especially at such a young age). Recently we had another interesting (to me at least) potential example.
From Wikipedia, Theory of Mind is generally described as:
“a specific cognitive capacity: the ability to understand that others have beliefs, desires and intentions that are different from one's own.”
“This theory of mind covers two separate concepts:
1. Gaining the understanding that others also have minds, with different and separate beliefs, desires, mental states, and intentions
2. Being able to form operational hypotheses (theories), or mental models, with a degree of accuracy, as to what those beliefs, desires, mental states, and intentions are.“
Based on the the Sally-Ann test, 'normal' children below the age of four and most autistic children (of all ages) do not demonstrate this capability. (The link and also a comment by Camille on the previous ToM post discuss some of the issues with this test.)
A week or so ago, the Bear (who is 3 yrs, 5 mos old) was working with her IBI instructor, and her snack (chopped up pear chunks) was sitting in her bowl, nearby but out of immediate reach. At one point the instructor had to leave the room for a moment. While she was gone, the Bear reached over into the bowl to grab and eat some pear chunks, something that she would never have done while the instructor was present. What was more interesting though is that as the Bear realized that the instructor was returning, she quickly sat back and put her hands down in front of her with a 'butter wouldn't melt in her mouth' look, hiding the fact that she had been reaching into the bowl. It was the gestural equivalent of "I didn't do nuthin'!" To be clear, she didn't merely stop when she sensed that the instructor was returning, but acted in such a way to actually hide her previous actions.
Given the two conditions above, the implication is that:
a) the Bear understood (albeit incorrectly) that the instructor did not know that she had taken some of her snack (i.e. different and separate beliefs and intentions), and
b) that she formed an operational hypothesis that concealment of her actions was a possibility, i.e. that she had knowledge that her instructor might not have and that she might be able to maintain this state of differential knowledge.
As in the previous ToM post, I would suggest - if my interpretation of the Bear's actions is correct - that she is demonstrating that a child diagnostically labeled as ‘autism, at the severe end of the spectrum’ is capable of Theory of Mind, and at a young age. Again, maybe the 'experts' aren't totally correct on this one?