European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

, Volume 18, Issue 2, pp 105–115 | Cite as

Everyday social and conversation applications of theory-of-mind understanding by children with autism-spectrum disorders or typical development

  • Candida C. Peterson
  • Michelle Garnett
  • Adrian Kelly
  • Tony Attwood


Children with autism-spectrum disorders (ASD) often fail laboratory false-belief tests of theory of mind (ToM). Yet how this impacts on their everyday social behavior is less clear, partly owing to uncertainty over which specific everyday conversational and social skills require ToM understanding. A new caregiver-report scale of these everyday applications of ToM was developed and validated in two studies. Study 1 obtained parent ratings of 339 children (85 with autism; 230 with Asperger’s; 24 typically-developing) on the new scale and results revealed (a) that the scale had good psychometric properties and (b) that children with ASD had significantly more everyday mindreading difficulties than typical developers. In Study 2, we directly tested links between laboratory ToM and everyday mindreading using teacher ratings on the new scale. The sample of 25 children included 15 with autism and 10 typical developers aged 5–12 years. Children in both groups who passed laboratory ToM tests had fewer everyday mindreading difficulties than those of the same diagnosis who failed. Yet, intriguingly, autistic ToM-passers still had more problems with everyday mindreading than younger typically-developing ToM-failers. The possible roles of family conversation and peer interaction, along with ToM, in everyday social functioning were considered.


autism Asperger’s disorder theory-of-mind conversation social skill 


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Copyright information

© Steinkopff Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Candida C. Peterson
    • 1
  • Michelle Garnett
    • 3
  • Adrian Kelly
    • 2
  • Tony Attwood
    • 3
  1. 1.School of PsychologyUniversity of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia
  2. 2.School of Social ScienceUniversity of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia
  3. 3.Minds & Hearts88 Boundary St.West EndAustralia

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