Original Paper

Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 37, Issue 4, pp 716-723

First online:

Do Children with Autism have a Theory of Mind? A Non-verbal Test of Autism vs. Specific Language Impairment

  • Livia ColleAffiliated withCentro di Scienze Cognitive, Dipartimento di Psicologia, University of Turin Email author 
  • , Simon Baron-CohenAffiliated withAutism Research Centre, Departments of Psychology and Psychiatry, Cambridge University
  • , Jacqueline HillAffiliated withAutism Research Centre, Departments of Psychology and Psychiatry, Cambridge University

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Abstract

Children with autism have delays in the development of theory of mind. However, the sub-group of children with autism who have little or no language have gone untested since false belief tests (FB) typically involve language. FB understanding has been reported to be intact in children with specific language impairment (SLI). This raises the possibility that a non-verbal FB test would distinguish children with autism vs. children with SLI. The present study tested two predictions: (1) FB understanding is to some extent independent of language ability; and (2) Children with autism with low language levels show specific impairment in theory of mind. Results confirmed both predictions. Results are discussed in terms of the role of language in the development of mindreading.

Keywords

Theory of mind Non-verbal false belief Autism Language impairments