Questions under consideration are "How much of the activities of an autistic child are self-propelled Can empathy be developed in sensory-impaired children Can a child be considered normal if he/she lacks empathy What constitutes normalcy in a child For purposes of this paper, "normal" will be related to empathy, and "noncommunicative" to autistic and sensory impaired children. Whether theory of mind, first actually created as an assessment tool in 1999, has contributed to the development of normal children or whether it helps in the social development of noncommunicative children will be addressed.
In assessing normal children through theory of mind, a university working group evaluated the degree of empathy and narrative thought in children bullying other children or children being bullied (Smorti et al, Theory of Mind in Bullying, n. pag.). As a result of the study, it was determined that because of the fact that most theory of mind tests were devised for preschool children, further research would be necessary in order to reach a conclusion about the actual effects of theory of mind (Mullin-Rindler et al). It must be noted that most children under the age of 4 have not had enough experience to look outside themselves and empathize with others. In fact, it has been shown that children at this early age need education on how to empathize, and Mary VanClay offers teaching suggestions on the Parent Center website as to how this can be accomplished ("The Caring Child," 2006). This reflection tends to contradict the concept that normalcy is defined by empathy. On the other hand, it doesn't define bullies or victims as normal, nor are they considered noncommunicative. If indeed the noncommunicative child can be taught to have empathy, this would be a major advance in the treatment of autism.
In narrative thought processes, Smorti's study indicates that bullies scored higher than victims in completeness of story scheme and organised thinking. However, other factors must be taken into consideration, for instance, linguistic factors, before a final conclusion can be reached. The study therefore has its weaknesses as an indicator of organised thinking.
The above conclusions and weaknesses have been corroborated in a university study conducted by J.I.M. Carpendale and Charlie Lewis in 2003. It was their contention that the role of social interaction in the development of social understanding was necessary for normal children, but their studies were mainly based on infant behavior and children under the age of 4. According to their findings, theory of mind focuses on the single mind of an individual child, while social developmentists focus on the interaction of group (p. 4). It is their belief that
children do not acquire an understanding of talk about the psychological world in an all or none fashion. Concepts are not passed on, ready-made, through language. Criteria are multiple and children may initially acquire a subset, which enables them to use words apparently correctly in supportive contexts. It is only through communicative interaction with others about beliefs (sometimes differing, sometimes concordant) about the world that children gradually construct an understanding of belief (p. 20).
This concept is called an "epistemic triangle." The conclusion is