As I wrote yesterday, my kid had had a night with not enough sleep and had a difficult time in the morning. I was in my bed trying to write a couple of emails while I heard my partner talk to our child about how he (our child) was feeling. I know my partner well enough to say that my partner was truly trying to understand how our child was feeling, but I got frustrated from listening to their conversation anyway. Why was my partner asking such irrelevant questions? I couldn’t exactly pinpoint why at the time, but a couple of hours later it hit me: My partner couldn’t intuitively relate to what our kid was experiencing.
A lot of the literature about autism talks about how autistic people have difficulties with theory of mind and are unable to see other people’s perspectives. Also, there are claims that autistic people don’t intuitively know what other people feel and think to the same extent as people who aren’t autistic. What I see with me, my child and my partner is something else. I often have an intuitive sense of what my child (who is autistic) is experiencing but I don’t have that with my partner (who isn’t autistic). My partner on the other hand usually doesn’t have that intuitive sense for me and my child.
I don’t think it’s as simple as having or not having theory of mind, I think it has something to do with relating to people who are similar to us. Experiencing sensory overload myself makes it easier to think that it could be happening to somebody else. My partner describes it like I have some kind of radar that picks up subtle signals about our child being overloaded, or that the environment we’re in is demanding, long before a meltdown.
This could be one of the reasons for why I find it so hard to answer questions about if I find it hard to understand other people’s feelings, thoughts, experiences. It depends on if they tend to have similar experiences to me or not. And what’s more important: Maybe it’s a really confusing thing to claim that people who aren’t autistic are so great at understanding other people’s perspective. Maybe it’s more about that people who belong to a majority happened to meet more people that have similar experiences to themselves.