Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 37, Issue 4, pp 716–723 | Cite as

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

  • Livia ColleEmail author
  • Simon Baron-Cohen
  • Jacqueline Hill
Original Paper


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 mind Non-verbal false belief Autism Language impairments 



Livia Colle was supported by the Ministero italiano dell’Istruzione e dell’Università e della Ricerca (FIRB Project, “Assessment dei disturbi della comunicazione in un’ottica riabilitativa” code n. RBAU01JEYW_001) in the development of this work. SBC and JH were supported by the MRC.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Livia Colle
    • 1
    Email author
  • 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

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