Autism, Theory of Mind Deficits and Relationships

Adults with high-functioning autism have theory of mind deficits and theory of mind deficits have a major impact on marriage and adult relationships.

Theory of mind is the ability to perceive what the world is like from other people’s perspectives. People with autism are aware of their own perspective, but have a difficult time understanding where other people are coming from. 

Theory of mind deficits prevent a spouse with autism from understanding where a typically developing spouse is coming from in social interactions. They prevent people with autism from easily understanding others’ emotions or intentions (Baron-Cohen, 1995; Frith & Happe, 1999). They affect the way the partner with autism speaks and behaves in the marriage.

People with autism tend to make decisions based only on the way they see the world, what they intend and how they feel. They tend to think that their positions are reasonable and others’ positions are unreasonable even when an objective outsider would adamantly disagree.

Typically developing spouses who do not have theory of mind deficits are able to see the world from their own perspective and the partner with autism’s perspective and will try to take both positions into account when resolving problems or making decisions. Many times, however, the person with autism will not accept a resolution that takes anyone else’s perspective into account.

Typically developing family members are generally incentivized to keep family members with autism feeling satisfied and peaceful. Typically developing partners experience relief when partners with autism are feeling calm and well because solving problems in mixed-neurological relationships can be so difficult that it may seem preferable to live with problems in order to keep the peace.

Partners with autism generally feel taken advantage of and exploited. Without easy access to their partners’ perspectives, their own wants and needs seem of much higher importance. They can feel manipulated, abused and controlled without understanding or perceiving their partners’ service and intentions.

Anne Janai, M.L.A.



Baron-Cohen, S. (1995). Mindblindness: An essay on autism and theory of mind. Boston: MIT Press.

Frith, U. & Happe, F. (1999). Theory of Mind and self-consciousness; what is it like to be autistic? Mind and Language, 14, 1-22.

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