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Teaching theory of mind: A new approach to social skills training for individuals with autism


This study examined the effectiveness of a social skills training program for normal-IQ adolescents with autism. Five boys participated in the 4 1/2-month treatment condition; four boys matched on age, IQ, and severity of autism constituted the no-treatment control group. In addition to teaching specific interactional and conversational skills, the training program provided expliciand systematic instruction in the underlying social-cognitive principles necessary to infer the mental states of others (i.e., theory of mind). Pre- and post-intervention assessment demonstrated meaningful change in the treatment group's performance on several false belief tasks, but no improvement in the control sample. No changes, however, were demonstrated on general parent and teacher ratings of social competence for either group.

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Author information

Correspondence to Sally Ozonoff.

Additional information

This project was partially supported by a University of Utah Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program grant to the authors. We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Tom George and Joel Wendel, who served as social skills trainers and assisted in data collection. We also thank the subjects and their families for their long-term support of research on autism. Finally, the helpful comments of two anonymous reviewers on a draft of this manuscript are appreciated.

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Ozonoff, S., Miller, J.N. Teaching theory of mind: A new approach to social skills training for individuals with autism. J Autism Dev Disord 25, 415–433 (1995). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02179376

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  • Training Program
  • Control Sample
  • Mental State
  • Treatment Condition
  • Systematic Instruction