Advertisement

A Training Study of Theory of Mind and Executive Function in Children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders

  • Naomi FisherEmail author
  • Francesca Happé
Article

This study investigated the relationship between theory of mind and executive functioning in children with autistic spectrum disorders through a training study. Ten children were trained on theory of mind, whilst ten were trained in executive function. Seven children were assigned to a control group, receiving no intervention. Training programmes were administered individually, lasting for 25 minutes per day for 5–10 days. Children were tested before training, after training and at a two-month follow-up. Significant improvements were seen in performance on theory of mind tasks in both trained groups, whilst the control group showed no improvement. No improvement on the executive function tasks was seen in any of the groups. The implications of these findings are discussed.

Keywords

Autism theory of mind executive function intervention 

Notes

Acknowledgments

The work reported here was carried out by Naomi Fisher as partial fulfilment of the requirements for a doctoral degree, during which she was supported by a Medical Research Council studentship.

References

  1. Baron-Cohen S., (1989). The autistic child’s theory of mind: A case of specific developmental delay Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 30: 285–298PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Baron-Cohen S., (1992). Out of sight or out of mind: Another look at deception in autism Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry & Allied Disciplines 33: 1141–1155CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Baron-Cohen S., (2000). Theory of mind and autism: a fifteen year review In: Baron-Cohen S., Tager-Flusberg H., Cohen D. J. (Eds) Understanding other minds. (2). Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  4. Baron-Cohen S., Jolliffe T., Mortimore C., Robertson M. (1997). Another advanced test of theory of mind: Evidence from very high functioning adults with autism or Asperger Syndrome Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines 38(7): 813–822CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bishop D. V., (1989). Test for reception of grammar MRC Applied Psychology Unit, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  6. Booth, R., Happé, F., Hughes, C., & Charlton, R. Executive function and theory of mind in everyday life (in preparation)Google Scholar
  7. Bowler D., Strom E. (1998). Elicitation of first-order ‘theory of mind’ in children with autism Autism 2(1): 33–44CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Drewe E. A., (1975). Go-no go learning after frontal lobe lesions in humans Cortex 11(1): 8–16PubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Dunn L. M., Dunn L. M., Whetton C., Burley J. (1999). The British Picture Vocabulary Scale NFER-Nelson, WindsorGoogle Scholar
  10. Fisher, N. (2002). The relationship of theory of mind to language and executive function in children with autism and children with moderate learning difficulties. Unpublished PhD thesis. University of London, LondonGoogle Scholar
  11. Fisher, N., Dunn, J., & Hughes, C. Advanced tests of theory of mind: Are appearances deceptive? Findings from a study of 8-year-olds (unpublished manuscript)Google Scholar
  12. Frith U., Happé F. G. E., Siddons F. (1994). Autism and theory of mind in everyday life Social Development 3: 108–124CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Frye D., Zelazo P. D., Palfai T. (1995). Theory of mind and rule-based reasoning Cognitive Development 10(4): 483–527CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hadwin J., Baron-Cohen S., Howlin P., Hill K. (1996). Can we teach children with autism to understand emotions, belief, or pretence? Development & Psychopathology 8(2): 345–365CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hadwin J., Baron-Cohen S., Howlin P., Hill K. (1997). Does teaching theory of mind have an effect on the ability to develop conversation in children with autism? Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders 27(5): 519–537CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hautus M. J., Lee A. J. (1998). The dispersions of estimates of sensitivity obtained from four psychophysical procedures: Implications for experimental design Perception & Psychophysics 60(4): 638–649Google Scholar
  17. Heaton, R. K. (1981). Wisconsin card sorting test manual. Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resource IncGoogle Scholar
  18. Hogrefe G. J., Wimmer H., Perner J. (1986). Ignorance versus false belief: A developmental lag in attribution of epistemic states Child Development 57(3): 567–582CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kazak S., Collis G. M., Lewis V. (1997). Can young people with autism refer to knowledge states? Evidence from their understanding of ‘know’ and ‘guess’ Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 38: 1001–1009PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kerns K. A., Eso K., Thomson J. (1999). Investigation of a direct intervention for improving attention in young children with ADHDDevelopmental Neuropsychology 16(2): 273–295CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Leslie A. M., Polizzi P. (1998). Inhibitory processing in the false belief task: Two conjectures Developmental Science 1(2): 247–253CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. McGregor E., Whiten A., Blackburn P. (1998a). Teaching theory of mind by highlighting intention and illustrating thoughts: A comparison of their effectiveness with 3-year olds and autistic individuals British Journal of Developmental Psychology 16(3): 367–387Google Scholar
  23. McGregor E., Whiten A., Blackburn P. (1998b). Transfer of the picture-in-the-head analogy to natural contexts to aid false belief understanding in autism Autism 2(4): 367–387CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Ozonoff S., Miller J. N. (1995). Teaching theory of mind: A new approach to social skills training for individuals with autism Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders 25(4): 415–433CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Pennington B. F., Ozonoff S. (1996). Executive Functions and Developmental Psychopathology Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 37(1): 51–87PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Perner J., Lang B. (1999). Development of theory of mind and executive control Trends in Cognitive Sciences 3(9): 337–344PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Perner J., Lang B., (2000). Theory of mind and executive function: Is there a developmental relationship? In: Baron-Cohen S., Tager-Flusberg H., Cohen D. J. (Eds) Understanding other minds: Perspectives from developmental cognitive neuroscience 2 Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 150–181Google Scholar
  28. Raven J., Raven J. C., Court J. H. (1998). Coloured progressive matrices Oxford Psychologists Press, Oxford Google Scholar
  29. Reitan R. M., (1958). Validity of the Trail Making Test as an indicator of organic brain damage Perceptual and Motor Skills 8: 271–276Google Scholar
  30. Russell J., (1997). How executive disorders can bring about an inadequate ‘theory of mind’ In: Russell J. (eds) Autism as an executive disorder Oxford University Press, New York, USA (256–304)Google Scholar
  31. Semrud-Clikeman M., Nielsen K. H., Clinton A., Sylvester L., Parle N., Connor R. T. (1999). An intervention approach for children with teacher- and parent-identified attentional difficulties Journal of Learning Disabilities 32(6): 581–590PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Sergeant J. A., Geurts H., Oosterlaan J. (2002). How specific is a deficit of executive functioning for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder? Behavioural Brain Research 130(1–2): 447–471Google Scholar
  33. Shimmon, K., & Lewis, C. (2001). Can children with autism be trained on the tower of London task? Paper presented at the Poster presented at BPS Developmental and Educational Sections Conference, Worcester, UKGoogle Scholar
  34. Swettenham J., (1996). Can children be taught to understand false belief using computers? Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry & Allied Disciplines 37(2): 157–165CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Swettenham J. G., Baron-Cohen S., Gomez J.-C., Walsh S. (1996). What’s inside someone’s Head? Conceiving of the Mind as a Camera Helps Children with Autism Acquire an Alternative to a Theory of Mind Cognitive Neuropsychiatry 1(1): 73–88PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Tager-Flusberg H., (2000). Language and understanding minds: Connections in autism In: Cohen D., (eds) Understanding other minds: Perspectives from developmental cognitive neuroscience 2 Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 124–149Google Scholar
  37. Wellman, H. M., Baron-Cohen, S., Caswell, R., Gomez, J. C., Swettenham, J., Toye, E., & Lagattuta, K. (2001). Using thought-bubbles helps children with autism acquire an alternative to a theory of mind. Paper presented at the Meetings of the Cognitive Development Society, Norfolk VAGoogle Scholar
  38. Wimmer H., Perner J., (1983). Beliefs about beliefs: Representation and constraining functions of wrong beliefs in young children’s understanding of deception Cognition 13: 103–128PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Zaitchik D., (1990). When representations conflict with reality: The preschooler’s problem with false beliefs and “false” photographs Cognition 35(1): 41–68PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Psychiatry, King’s CollegeUniversity of LondonLondonUK
  2. 2.Department of Psychiatry, Institute of Psychiatry, King’s CollegeUniversity of LondonLondonUK

Personalised recommendations