Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies

The Pathos of "Mindblindness": Autism, Science, and Sadness in "Theory of Mind" Narratives

Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies (2011), 5, (2), 201–215.


Details

Of the many scientific and medical discourses that purport to explain, analyze, demystify, or even cure autism, few have been as influential in recent decades as the Theory of Mind (ToM) account, which holds that autistic people are incapable of intuiting the intentions and emotions of others and are therefore "mindblind", or live with "mindblindness," a condition that separates them from other human beings. ToM is regarded by its more ardent advocates as the primary deficit in autism and the key to understanding autistic cognition and behaviors. The article considers the rhetoric of ToM. The authors argue that despite its foundations in the language of cognitive psychology, it is a discourse of affect and values, or a rhetoric of scientific sadness in which autistic people are mourned even as they are ostensibly explained.

Aspie Rhetor. "aspie rhetor: on autism, rhetoric, technology, & elo." > http://aspierhetor.com/ Google Scholar

Autism Diva. > http://autismdiva.blogspot.com/ Google Scholar

Baggs, Amanda. "In My Language." YouTube. 14 January 2007. Web. 20 June 2010. Google Scholar

Baron-Cohen, Simon. Mindblindness: An Essay on Autism and Theory of Mind. Cambridge: MIT P, 1997. Mindblindness: An Essay on Autism and Theory of Mind Google Scholar

Baron-Cohen, Simon. The Essential Difference: The Truth About the Male and Female Brain. New York: Basic, 2003. The Essential Difference: The Truth About the Male and Female Brain Google Scholar

Baron-Cohen, Simon. Autism and Asperger Syndrome. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008. Autism and Asperger Syndrome Google Scholar

Bettelheim, Bruno. The Empty Fortress: Infantile Autism and the Birth of the Self. New York: Free P, 1967. The Empty Fortress: Infantile Autism and the Birth of the Self Google Scholar

Blaxill Mark F. "What's Going On? The Question of Time Trends in Autism." Public Health Reports 119 (2004): 536–51. Google Scholar

Burke, Kenneth. Language as Symbolic Action. Berkeley: U of California P, 1966. Language as Symbolic Action Google Scholar

Burke, Kenneth. A Rhetoric of Motives. Berkeley: U of California P, 1969. A Rhetoric of Motives Google Scholar

Coleman, Mary and Christopher Gillberg. The Biology of the Autistic Syndromes. New York: Praeger, 1985. The Biology of the Autistic Syndromes Google Scholar

Fisher, Walter. Human Communication as Narration: Toward a Philosophy of Reason, Value, and Action. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 1989. Human Communication as Narration: Toward a Philosophy of Reason, Value, and Action Google Scholar

Frith, Uta. Autism: Explaining the Enigma. Malden: Blackwell, 2003. Autism: Explaining the Enigma Google Scholar

Gernsbacher, Morton A. and Jennifer L. Frymiare. "Does the Autistic Brain Lack Any Core Modules?" Journal of Developmental and Learning Disorders 9 (2005): 3–16. Does the Autistic Brain Lack Any Core Modules? Journal of Developmental and Learning Disorders 9 3 16 Google Scholar

Happé, Francesca. Autism: An Introduction to Psychological Theory. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1998. Autism: An Introduction to Psychological Theory Google Scholar

Kanner, Leo. "Autistic Differences of Affective Contact. Nervous Child 2 (1943): 217–50. "Autistic Differences of Affective Contact Nervous Child 2 217 50 Google Scholar

Kleege, Georgina. Sight Unseen. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1999. Sight Unseen Google Scholar

Miller, Lisa and Joni Reynolds. "Autism and Vaccination: The Current Evidence." Journal for Specialists in Pediatric Nursing 14.3 (2009): 166–72. Autism and Vaccination: The Current Evidence Journal for Specialists in Pediatric Nursing 14 166 72 Google Scholar

Nadesan, Majia Holmer. Constructing Autism: Unravelling the "Truth" and Understanding the Social. London: Routledge, 2005. Constructing Autism: Unravelling the "Truth" and Understanding the Social Google Scholar

Prince-Hughes, Dawn. Songs of the Gorilla Nation: My Journey Through Autism. New York: Harmony Books, 2004. Songs of the Gorilla Nation: My Journey Through Autism Google Scholar

Schreibman, Laura. The Science and Fiction of Autism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2005. The Science and Fiction of Autism Google Scholar

Sinclair, Jim. "Why I Dislike 'Person-First' Language." > www.jimsinclair.org/person_first.htm Google Scholar

Smukler, David. "Unauthorized Minds: How 'Theory of Mind' Theory Misrepresents Autism." Mental Retardation 43.1 (2005): 11–24. Unauthorized Minds: How 'Theory of Mind' Theory Misrepresents Autism Mental Retardation 43 11 24 Google Scholar

Tammet, Daniel. Born on a Blue Day. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2006. Born on a Blue Day Google Scholar

Whose Planet Is It Anyway? > http://autisticbfh.blogspot.com/ Google Scholar

Willey, Liane Holliday. Pretending to Be Normal: Living with Asperger Syndrome. London: Jessica Kingsley, 1999. Pretending to Be Normal: Living with Asperger Syndrome Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here

Author details

Duffy, John

Dorner, Rebecca