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Thread: A question about autistic children

  1. #1 A question about autistic children 
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    I have heard before that autistic children often believe that when they close their eyes, nobody else can see them (because they lack the ability to grasp others' mental representations). Has anyone heard of this before? I'm looking to cite a paper that discusses this; I read it somewhere before and I can't for the life of me remember where. I emailed a well-known autism researcher but he hasn't gotten back to me.

    I presume this, if true, counts for young autistic children in particular, or only a subset of autistic children. I know anecdotally that kids often think that by closing their eyes no one else can see them.

    Any help much appreciated.


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  3. #2  
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    Hello...

    I found something similar here: GAZE AVERSION IN AUTISTIC AND NORMAL CHILDREN - Richer - 2007 - Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica - Wiley Online Library

    The summary doesn't say anything about "autistic can't grasp other's mind" but it do says that when you cover one of their eyes: they will look at you (will not avoid eye contact), but when you open both their eyes: they avoided looking at you (like is scared). I don't think this mean they can't understand us?

    I use GoogleScholar to find that article, maybe you can find better match: Google Scholar
    (I use term "autistic cover eye")

    *They also cover ears!


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  4. #3  
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    Interesting! Thanks msafwan. I ended up finding an article by a person with asperger's who said she used to cover her eyes as a kid, but I'm not sure if this has been consistently reported...
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  5. #4  
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    Young Children, before age 4, typically do not have a capacity for Theory of Mind, which is the ability to attribute emotions, thoughts, intentions, goals, and beliefs to another human being. Children, usually prior to 4 years of age, will attribute their own mental states to others (ex. I like Barbie dolls; so, you must like Barbie dolls too). Similar deficits in the capacity for Theory of Mind are seen in Autistic children who should have the ability; about 80% of Autistic children who should be able to pass Theory of Mind tests according to development milestones are not able to do so. Even precursors to Theory of Mind, such as joint attention and behavioral mimicry, seen in children at 7 months of age and as early as immediately after birth, are conspicuously absent in autistic children.

    I speculate that these social deficits, among an entire syndrome of social deficits, are compounded by, or are caused by, another phenomenon seen in autistic individuals. This phenomenon is characterized by processing a face as an object. People without Autism use distinctly different brain regions, such as the fusiform gyrus, which Autistic people do not use when looking at a person's face, but rather Autistic people use brain regions specialized for processing objects instead. I have heard about accounts in which an Autistic person may ask a fellow student something like, "Hey, would you be willing to trade your girlfriend for a watch?" This kind of question reveals the very fine line between people and objects, which sheds some light on the nature Autism Spectrum Disorders. This phenomenon is also related to another observance; autistic children do not focus on the eyes of another person as a normal child would, but rather treat the eyes as another piece, or another object, in the visual field that is not any more important than, say, the nose or the mouth, or other objects like lamps and light switches.

    I, again, speculate that these social deficits, failure to achieve Theory of Mind capabilities and assimilation of people as objects, may explain why an autistic child would believe that he/she cannot be seen while he/she has his/her eyes closed. Concerning the increased flight behavior and gaze aversion seen in Autistic children while both eyes are visible as opposed to other scenarios is interesting. Perhaps some element of social importance is gleaned from the other person by the Autistic child, but the child is distressed by it due to his/her inability to make sense of the social realm. Perhaps the child is associating specific arrangements of facial elements as belonging to the category of "human being," or more specifically, a "human being that should be avoided". Thus, when one or both eyes are covered, the child no longer recognizes the person as an unpredictable (and socially distressing) human being. Temple Grandin, a world renowned individual with Asperger Syndrome, describes a closer mental connection to animals rather than human beings. She gives examples of her work at animal slaughter facilities, such as the horse that is afraid of a man in a white hat but not afraid of the same man with no hat or a hat of a different color. I am also reminded of a study that discovered that Autistic children prefer a robotic, computer-generated voice over a warm, motherly, female voice (such a voice that a mother may have), which suggests a preference toward the predictable rather than the varying unpredictable. The understanding of socializing as a practice with relatively unpredictable outcomes is key to understanding the connection between the gaze aversion, preference of predictability, perception of people as objects and conglomerates of objects, and theory of mind in the context of Autism Spectrum Disorders.

    Of course, this comes from my own interpretation and speculation of the facts at hand rather than a specific cited source, but I see some merit to the idea, at least.
    Last edited by TheDr.Spo; August 7th, 2012 at 02:12 AM. Reason: misplaced contribution of amygdala
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  6. #5  
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    Thanks Dr Spo, that's pretty interesting and makes sense. You know your stuff.
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