Theory of Mind

Actually, the title of this post is probably a bit of misnomer. I’m not going to discuss theory of mind itself. If you want to dive into such a discussion, I highly recommend this post. But there is an aspect related to the theory of mind discussions that has been niggling at the back of my mind since I discovered them after being diagnosed with ASD last year.

I do lose track of which things I know that my partner also knows.

It shows up most in that, my closest relationship, but I can see traces of it in other settings. As with all things autistic (and I do believe this is related to autism), I’ve learned to cover well. Nevertheless, there have been countless times my wife has told me she didn’t know something I thought she knew. In some cases, I even feel like I remember telling her, but she assures me I never did.

At first, the theory of mind discussions seemed related. But they really aren’t. It’s not as though I’m not aware of the boundary between my mind and the things I know and other minds. If anything, I’m acutely aware of that boundary at all times. Sometimes, it feels more like a chasm than a simple boundary. And yet, I still end up unsure or outright wrong about which information in my mind I’ve actually shared with others. I’ve been searching for an explanation.

This past month, as I’ve had to deal with medical information in a hospital setting with many different people on top of family communication I think the answer finally crystallized in my mind. I’ve noticed the intensity with which I mentally rehearse almost everything I want to communicate, whether it’s comparatively minor or critically important to me. I rehearse everything. I rehearse what I imagine are likely responses to what I will say. I try out different ways of phrasing things and try to understand how each approach will likely be heard. There’s a part of my mind that never, ever stops rehearsing ways to share information. It’s relentless and it’s so much a part of the way my mind works that I don’t even think about it as a process. Obviously, this goes way beyond “scripts” and I think it has a lot to do with my “success” at masking my autistic traits fairly well for much of my adult life.

But I rehearse communication so rigorously that it sometimes feels like I’ve shared something when I actually haven’t. The process of mental rehearsal also forms memories. If the process didn’t it would be useless. But sometimes those memories are hard to distinguish from memories of actually speaking. From time to time, my mind gets confused and I end up believing I have actually spoken words I never said. It’s not that I’m confused about where my mind ends and yours begins. Rather, I incorrectly remember a mentally rehearsed conversation as one that actually occurred.

So I’m left wondering: Does that happen to other people too or is it just me?

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