AARC Tip of the Month - July 2017
Theory of Mind and Reading Novels
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Theory of Mind and Novels

One of the concerns in educating children on the autism spectrum is the development of social skills and  theory of mind . There are many different techniques for teaching these skills, but one additional method may be reading literary fiction.

"Theory of Mind is the human capacity to comprehend that other people hold beliefs and desires, and that these may differ from one's own beliefs and desires. The currently predominant view is that literary fiction - often described as narratives that focus on in-depth portrayals of subjects' inner feelings and thoughts - can be linked to theory of mind processes, especially those that are involved in the understanding or simulation of the affective characteristics of the subjects." Science Magazine.

Reading a novel lets the reader experience the world from the perspective of other people: the characters in the novel. These characters may be very different, and may think in a very different ways than the reader. Multiple areas of the brain will be involved in participating in the experiences that are described in the book. The reader can learn from these experiences and their emotions will be engaged as a part of reading.

Studies have been done to see if reading improves empathy. While all forms of reading stimulate the brain, literary fiction with complex and well-developed characters does the most to develop empathy and understanding of others. The reader needs to make an effort to process that complexity, which engages the brain in ways that reading nonfiction does not do.

Articles used to help write this Tip of the Month:
Science Magazine. " Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind" by    David Comer Kidd and  Emanuele Castano. http://science.sciencemag.org/content/342/6156/377

  Psychology Today. "Can Reading a Fictional Story Make You More Empathetic?" by Christopher Bergland. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201412/can-reading-fictional-story-make-you-more-empathetic

Other articles related to this topic:
Edutopia. "How Reading Literature Cultivates Empathy" by Elena Aguilar.  https://www.edutopia.org/blog/reading-literature-cultivates-empathy-in-students-elena-aguilar

Scientific American. "Novel Finding: Reading Literary Fiction Improves Empathy" b Julianne Chiaet. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/novel-finding-reading-literary-fiction-improves-empathy/

Books of the Month:
The books of the month are available in the Special Education Service Agency (SESA) Library. Search for books on the  SESA website, or contact our Librarian, Anne Freitag, at  afreitag@sesa.org  or  907-334-1301 

Electronic books may be accessed from anywhere in the state. If you've used our ebooks before,  go to the login page here.  If you haven't, please contact Anne so she can set up a username and password for you.  
Click here for more information about ebooks.

You can also look for additional articles in a variety of databases by using SLED, which is available for free for all Alaskans:  http://lam.alaska.gov/sled

Most of the titles for this Tip of the Month are written from the point of view of an individual on the spectrum, which could help kids develop empathy for their peers on the spectrum. Kids on the spectrum could read any age or level appropriate novel related to a topic they find interesting. Some of these titles are for adults.
Al Capone Does My Homework
By: Gennifer Choldenko
Puffin Books, 2014
ISBN:  9780142425220

Description: "Moose Flanagan, who lives on Alcatraz along with his family and the families of the other prison guards, faces new challenges when his father is promoted to Associate Warden" - Provided by publisher.  There are two additional titles in this series.
Ann Drew Jackson
By: Joan Clark
Autism Asperger Pub. Co., 2007
ISBN:  9781931282451
Description: "Jackson Thomas, a fifth grade boy with Asperger Syndrome, is back in a sequel to Jackson Whole Wyoming. This time, Jackson is in a new school with a new person telling the story. Hillary Branson has a real attitude problem, spunk, independence, and a tendency to lie. In Ann Drew Jackson, when the teachers assigns her to complete a science project with Jackson, Hillary tries to rebel in any way she can. As the story develops her issues are revealed. She and Jackson eventually discover that they have a lot more in common than they realize. Ann Drew Jackson brings to light a truth that teachers have known for years. Occasionally kids that have to deal with issues that are out of their control, such as Jackson, can become a guiding light for their peers. In Ann Drew Jackson, Jackson helps Hillary in a profound way. Jackson accomplishes this through being himself. Ann Drew Jackson lets children with and without ASD to experience the frustrations that may drift into their lives. The book so vividly allows them to see, from both sides of the spectrum, that people are people despite uncontrollable circumstances." - Amazon.com
Autism Isn't a Crime: Just ask the ghost of Frank Reid
By: DP Johnson
Cave Moon Press, 2015
ISBN:  9780692490075
Description: "A middle school boy with autism in Alaska struggles to be the hero in his own story." - publisher's website.
House Rules: A novel
By: Jodi Picoult
Washington Square Press, 2010
ISBN:  9780743296441
Description: A teenager with Asperger's syndrome - smart, quirky, with a passion for crime scene analysis - winds up on trial for murder.
My Strange and Terrible Malady
By: Catherine Bristow
Autism Asperger Pub. Co., 2008
ISBN:  9781934575192
Description: "Ronita Baker is not happy. How can she be happy when she has just been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome - some boy's ailment that she's never heard [of] any girl ever having?" - Cover verso.
The Kitchen Daughter: A novel
By: Jael McHenry
Gallery Books, 2011
ISBN:  9781439191699
Description: Seeking comfort in traditional family culinary practices after the early deaths of her parents, twenty-six-year-old Asperger's patient Ginny struggles with her domineering sister's decision to sell the house, troubling secrets, and the ghost of a dead ancestor.
The Rosie Project: A novel
By: Graeme Simsion
Simon & Schuster, 2013
ISBN:  9781476729091
Description: Don Tillman, professor of genetics, has never been on a second date. He is a man who can count all his friends on the fingers of one hand, whose lifelong difficulty with social rituals has convinced him that he is simply not wired for romance. So when an acquaintance informs him that he would make a "wonderful" husband, his first reaction is shock. Yet he must concede to the statistical probability that there is someone for everyone, and he embarks upon The Wife Project. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which he approaches all things, Don sets out to find the perfect partner. He sets up a project designed to find him the perfect wife, starting with a questionnaire that has to be adjusted a little as he goes along. She will be punctual and logical, most definitely not a barmaid, a smoker, a drinker, or a late-arriver. Then he meets Rosie Jarman, who is everything he's not looking for in a wife. Rosie is all these things. She is also beguiling, fiery, intelligent, and on a quest of her own. She is looking for her biological father, a search that a certain DNA expert might be able to help her with. Don's Wife Project takes a back burner to the Father Project and an unlikely relationship blooms, forcing the scientifically minded geneticist to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie, and the realization that love is not always what looks good on paper.
The Speed of Dark
By: Elizabeth Moon
Ballantine Books, 2004
ISBN:  9780345447548
Description: An exploration into the world of an autistic man who is offered a chance to try a brand-new experimental 'cure' for his condition. He must decide if he should submit to a surgery that might completely change the way he views the world, and the very essence of who he is.
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