I'm finished with Simon Baron-Cohen, et al 's Teaching Children with Autism to Mind-Read. I haven't read the whole thing, but I'm done with it.
As I described in a previous post, the book outlines a very structured technique for helping children identify emotions in other people. It's a systematic approach, and I'm certain that it works. But it left me with one question:
So what if my son can tell that you are happy/sad/angry/afraid? So what if he knows why you are happy/sad/angry/afraid? So what if he can predict that a particular set of circumstances will make you happy/sad/angry/afraid?
What does any of that matter if, ultimately, he doesn't care that you are happy/sad/angry/afraid?
It seems to me that this very structured (and, to me, rigid and inflexible) approach is a very "autistic" way to teach about human emotion.
The model suggests that solving problems like the following will help children with autism understand "desire-based" emotion: James wants chocolate ice cream. His mom gives him vanilla ice cream. How does James feel? (Choose one: happy or sad.)
It makes me want to scream.
Perhaps James feels neither happy nor sad. Perhaps he feels vaguely unsatisfied. Perhaps he first feels disappointed, but then feels the excitement of discovery as he experiences vanilla for the first time and finds he likes it even more than he likes chocolate. Or - gasp! - perhaps he won't perseverate on the ice cream; perhaps, instead, James will say to himself "It is a beautiful sunny day, and while I don't really care for vanilla ice cream it doesn't matter all that much in the broad scheme of things. I think I'll just skip the ice cream and play on the swings instead."
If I want Bud to be successful in the world, I need to help him understand and make sense of the flexible, evolutionary, constantly changing world of human emotion. I am doing him a disservice if I set low expectations and define success as a rigid understanding of a series of "if this, then that" scenarios. I need to help him become a broadband communicator - to read, interpret, and respond to multiple cues simultaneously and automatically. Since that's my goal, I need to choose the educational pedagogies and intervention models that are best able to help him get there; and for that reason, mind-reading won't be included in Bud's curriculum.