I'm currently reading the book Teaching Children with Autism to Mind-Read by Patricia Howlin, Simon Baron-Cohen, and Julie Hadwin, which outlines a systematic approach to helping children on the spectrum develop "theory of mind," or perspective-taking skills.
The authors suggest that there are five levels of emotional understanding that provide the foundation for theory of mind skills: 1) recognition of facial expressions (happy, sad, angry, afraid) from photographs; 2) recognition of emotion from schematic drawings; 3) identification of situation-based emotions (the dog is chasing the boy, so the boy feels afraid); 4) desire-based emotion (if a person gets what a person wants, that person will be happy; if that person does not get the wanted thing, the person will be sad); and 5) belief-based emotion (if the person believes that the wanted thing is coming, the person will be happy; if the person believes the wanted thing is not coming, the person will be sad).
They go on to provide tools to assess a child's ability on each of the five levels, and then activities to help develop skills based on the level at which the child is assessed. Tonight I sat down with Bud and the book to give it a try. Foolishly, I started the process in the evening, when Bud was already getting sleepy and was probably ready for bed. Nonetheless, he flew through the first three levels - identified emotions in photographs and in sketches of faces, and could accurately predict emotions based on the situations provided.
I knew we were done for the day when we started Level 4. I was following the book's instructions to the letter. 1) Show the pictures. 2) Read the statement. "This child wants x. The child's dad gives him x." 3) Question for comprehension of desire: "What does the child want?" 4) Question for comprehension of emotion: "How will the child feel when dad gives him x?" 5) Question for comprehension of justification: "Why will he feel that way?"
So I opened to the first scenario - pictures of a boy by a pool, chosen because I could tell that Bud's interest was waning and I thought I could hold him a little longer because of his love of pools. I began the canned routine:
"Look at this, Bud. Ben wants to go to the pool." I pointed to the first picture.
"Ben's Daddy takes him to the pool." I pointed to the second picture.
"What does Ben want?" I asked pointing to the first picture.
"His flippers," Bud yawned.
Not even wrong.