, Volume 31, Issue 2, pp 119-130

Links Between Social Understanding and Social Behavior in Verbally Able Children with Autism

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This study investigated the relations between various measures of social understanding and social interaction competence in verbally able children with autism. Measures of social understanding included measures of verbalizable knowledge (false belief understanding, affective perspective taking), as well as measures of more intuitive forms of social responsiveness (empathy, concern to distress, and initiating joint attention). Two measures of social interaction competence were employed: level of engagement with peers on the playground, and prosocial behavior in a structured laboratory task. For children with autism, initiating joint attention and empathy were strongly related to both measures of social interaction competence. No understanding-behavior links were identified for a language-age matched comparison sample of developmentally delayed children. Several accounts of these understanding-behavior links are considered, including the possibility that for children with autism, more impaired forms of understanding are more closely linked to behavior because they serve as limits on competence.