False beliefs

I’m fascinated by how children begin to understand false beliefs and what that says about their understanding of perspective. There’s a great deal of research (and a few Youtube video demonstrations) around Theory of Mind. The concept is particularly interesting for those of us who study and work with people with Autism Spectrum Disorders. I’m also finding it useful as I continue to work on my novel.

One of the central characters in my YA novel is a middle-school aged student with ASD named Sam. In the first half of the novel, he plays a supporting part in the ensemble but as the mystery deepens, so does his role.

Here’s my dilemma. Something that he does that is stereotypic behavior for individuals with ASD becomes a useful tool for the resolution of the crisis. The main character, who realizes the potential of Sam’s atypical talent, must convince Sam to use this ability to trick one of the suspects. How Sam responds will determine whether he subsequently uses his talent for what, at the time, might seem to be a bad thing. Does Sam recognize the false belief aspect of his ruse? And, if he does, what does that tell us about his disability?

To help me sort out these questions and gain a better understanding of False Belief development, I’m reading “Theory of Mind,” by Martin Doherty. I hope I can use this gambit and still remain true to Sam’s nature.

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