Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 37, Issue 4, pp 716–723

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

Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s10803-006-0198-7

Cite this article as:
Colle, L., Baron-Cohen, S. & Hill, J. J Autism Dev Disord (2007) 37: 716. doi:10.1007/s10803-006-0198-7


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.


Theory of mindNon-verbal false beliefAutismLanguage impairments

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Livia Colle
    • 1
  • Simon Baron-Cohen
    • 2
  • Jacqueline Hill
    • 2
  1. 1.Centro di Scienze Cognitive, Dipartimento di PsicologiaUniversity of TurinTurinItaly
  2. 2.Autism Research Centre, Departments of Psychology and PsychiatryCambridge UniversityCambridgeUK