Autism spectrum research and disability language alternatives

Bryce Huebner, a superstarpostdoctoralphilosophygraduate currently working in Marc Hauser’s lab at Harvard, recently sent me the following query. Bryce is writing up descriptions of research on autism / autism spectrum disorder and theory of mind (ToM), research that explores differences between experimental subject populations (you know, controlled studies and all that), often different populations of children. He writes:

I am really struggling with the sort of language to use in discussing some of the developmental data on mental state ascriptions. Here’s my problem. I want to try to avoid ableist language in discussing ToM. But I’m not sure how to discuss the similar capacities that emerge for both ‘normally developing’ children and ‘developmentally disabled’ children in contrasting these capacities with the lack of one sort of ToM that we see in children with autism spectrum disorder. Do you have any suggestions about how to avoid the use of terms like ‘developmentally disabled’ in this case?

My short answer was that Continue reading

Where is our thinking about people thinking located?

Over at The Situationist there is a recent post on the work of Rebecca Saxe , a cognitive neuroscientist at MIT, on the brain localization of thought about the minds of others, and about moral reasoning that involves the attribution of mental states to others. They basically cut and paste an article on Saxe from the MIT News office, but there’s much in this of potential interest to What Sorters (perhaps including the pattern of female descent in MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences) here. I heard Saxe give a mighty fine talk (on prosody and listeners’ representations) at the Society for Philosophy and Psychology annual meeting last week in the City of Brotherly Love. A little more on the work itself on folk attributions, its location, and where it seems to be heading vis-a-vis work on autism and moral cognition, two current hot topics at the interface of philosophy and psychology. Continue reading