Behavior–analytic practitioners working with individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) may be approached to incorporate perspective taking into a client’s programming. Teaching perspective taking to individuals with ASDs has received attention in both the developmental psychology and, more recently, the behavior–analytic literature. The results of our review of the current evidence suggest that although perspective-taking repertoires believed to be related to social skills can be taught (false belief task performance, deictic frames), only directly teaching the social skills of interest (or applied perspective-taking skills) results in improvements in socially important behavior. The aim of this article is to provide practitioners with the current state of research on how teaching perspective taking affects social skills and to provide suggestions on how these findings might be incorporated into their practice.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
As behavior analysts, we prefer to use the term perspective taking because (a) it does not invoke the same mentalistic assumptions associated with theory of mind and (b) the verb perspective taking better directs us toward an analysis of behavior. However, we also recommend that practitioners choose their battles over semantics when speaking with those outside the field to help build collaborative and more productive working relationships (see arguments by Axelrod, 1992; Bailey, 1991).
Given the extensive body of research on theory of mind and perspective taking, we have limited the scope of our review to research related to belief-based perspective taking (also referred to as cognitive perspective taking; e.g., Mori & Cigala, 2016), or behavior that accounts for others’ private events that fall under the heading of belief (know, think, believe, etc.).
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
Axelrod, S. (1992). Disseminating an effective educational technology. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 25, 31–35. https://doi.org/10.1901/jaba.1992.25-31
Baer, D. M., Wolf, M. W., & Risley, T. R. (1968). Some current dimensions of applied behavior analysis. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 1, 91–97.
Bailey, J. S. (1991). Marketing behavior analysis requires different talk. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 24, 445–448. https://doi.org/10.1901/jaba.1991.24-445
Baron-Cohen, S. (1989a). Are autistic children “behaviorists”? An examination of their mental-physical and appearance-reality distinctions. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 19, 579–600. https://doi.org/10.1007/bf02212859
Baron-Cohen, S. (1989b). The autistic child’s theory of mind: a case of specific developmental delay. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 30, 285–297. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-7610.1989.tb00241.x
Baron-Cohen, S. (1992). Out of sight or out of mind? Another look at deception in autism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 33, 1141–1155. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-7610.1992.tb00934.x
Baron-Cohen, S., Leslie, A. M., & Frith, U. (1985). Does the autistic child have a “theory of mind”? Cognition, 21, 37–46. https://doi.org/10.1016/0010-0277(85)90022-8
Begeer, S., Malle, B. F., Nieuwland, M. S., & Keysar, B. (2010). Using theory of mind to represent and take part in social interactions: comparing individuals with high-functioning autism and typically developing controls. European Journal of Developmental Psychology, 7, 104–122. https://doi.org/10.1080/17405620903024263
Behavior Analyst Certification Board (2014). Professional and ethical compliance code for behavior analysts. Retrieved from https://www.bacb.com/ethics/ethics-code/
Belisle, J., Dixon, M. R., Stanley, C. R., Munoz, B., & Daar, J. H. (2016). Teaching foundational perspective-taking skills to children with autism using the PEAK-T curriculum: Single-reversal “I–you” deictic frames. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 49, 965–969. https://doi.org/10.1002/jaba.324
Bell, K. S., & Kirby, J. R. (2002). Teaching emotion and belief as mind-reading instruction for children with autism. Developmental Disabilities Bulletin, 30, 16–58.
Bergstrom, R., Najdowski, A. C., Alvarado, M., & Tarbox, J. (2016). Teaching children with autism to tell socially appropriate lies. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 49, 1–6. https://doi.org/10.1002/jaba.295
Brennan, L. C. (2011). Teaching perspective-taking skills to children with autism spectrum disorders. Austin, TX: PRO-ED.
Charlop-Christy, M. H., & Daneshvar, S. (2003). Using video modeling to teach perspective taking to children with autism. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 5, 12–21. https://doi.org/10.1177/10983007030050010101
Chin, H. Y., & Bernard-Opitz, V. (2000). Teaching conversational skills to children with autism: Effect on the development of a theory of mind. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 30, 569–583. https://doi.org/10.1023/a:1005639427185
DeBernardis, G. M., Hayes, L. J., & Fryling, M. J. (2014). Perspective taking as a continuum. The Psychological Record, 64, 123–131. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40732-014-0008-0
Dennett, D. C. (1978). Beliefs about beliefs [P&W, SR&B]. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 1, 568–570. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0140525x00076664
Feng, H., Lo, Y., Tsai, S., & Cartledge, G. (2008). The effects of theory-of-mind and social skill training on the social competence of a sixth-grade student with autism. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 10, 228–242. https://doi.org/10.1177/1098300708319906
Fisher, N., & Happé, F. (2005). A training study of theory of mind and executive function in children with autistic spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 35, 757–771. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-005-0022-9
Frith, U. (1989). A new look at language and communication in autism. British Journal of Disorders of Communication, 24, 123–150. https://doi.org/10.3109/13682828909011952
Frith, U., Happé, F., & Siddons, F. (1994). Autism and theory of mind in everyday life. Social Development, 3, 108–124. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9507.1994.tb00031.x
Gilroy, S. P., Lorah, E. R., Dodge, J., & Fiorello, C. (2015). Establishing deictic repertoires in autism. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 19, 82–92. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rasd.2015.04.004
Gratch, G. (1964). Response alternation in children: a developmental study of orientations to uncertainty. Human Development, 7, 49–60. https://doi.org/10.1159/000270053
Grossman, M., Peskin, J., & San Juan, V. (2013). Thinking about a reader’s mind: fostering communicative clarity in the compositions of youth with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 43, 2376–2392. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-013-1786-y
Hadwin, J., Baron-Cohen, S., Howlin, P., & Hill, K. (1996). Can we teach children with autism to understand emotions, belief, or pretence? Development and Psychopathology, 8, 345–365. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0954579400007136
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 and Developmental Disorders, 27, 519–537. https://doi.org/10.1023/a:1025826009731
Hanley, G. P., Jin, S., Vanselow, N. R., & Hanratty, L. A. (2014). Producing meaningful improvements in problem behavior of children with autism via synthesized analyses and treatments. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 47, 16–36. https://doi.org/10.1002/jaba.106
Happé, F. G. E. (1994). An advanced test of theory of mind: understanding of story characters’ thoughts and feelings by able autistic, mentally handicapped, and normal children and adults. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 24, 129–154. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02172093
Haring, T. G., Roger, B., Lee, M., Breen, C., & Gaylord-Ross, R. (1986). Teaching social language to moderately handicapped students. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 19, 159–171.
Himle, M. B., Miltenberger, R. G., Flessner, C., & Gatheridge, B. (2004). Teaching safety skills to children to prevent gun play. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 37, 1–9. https://doi.org/10.1901/jaba.2004.37-1
Hogrefe, G. J., Wimmer, H., & Perner, J. (1986). Ignorance versus false belief: a developmental lag in attribution of epistemic states. Child Development, 57, 567–582. https://doi.org/10.2307/1130337
Howlin, P., Baron-Cohen, S., & Hadwin, J. (1999). Teaching children with autism to mind-read: A practical guide. West Sussex, England: Wiley & Sons.
Hughes, C., & Leekam, S. (2004). What are the links between theory of mind and social relations? Review, reflections and new directions for studies of typical and atypical development. Social Development, 13, 590–619. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9507.2004.00285.x
Hutchins, T. L., Prelock, P. A., & Chace, W. (2008). Test-retest reliability of a theory of mind task battery for children with autism spectrum disorders. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 23, 195–206. https://doi.org/10.1177/1088357608322998
Hutchins, T. L., Prelock, P. A., Morris, H., Benner, J., LaVigne, T., & Hoza, B. (2016). Explicit vs. applied theory of mind competence: a comparison of typically developing males, males with ASD, and males with ADHD. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 21, 94–108. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rasd.2015.10.004
Jaarsma, P., Gelhaus, P., & Welin, S. (2012). Living the categorical imperative: autistic perspectives on lying and truth telling—between Kant and care ethics. Medicine, Health Care, and Philosophy, 15, 271–277. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11019-011-9363-7
Jackson, M. L., Mendoza, D. R., & Adams, A. N. (2014). Teaching a deictic relational repertoire to children with autism. The Psychological Record, 64, 791–802. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40732-014-0078-z
Kisamore, A. N., Carr, J. E., & LeBlanc, L. A. (2011). Training preschool children to use visual imagining as a problem-solving strategy for complex categorization tasks. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 44, 255–278. https://doi.org/10.1901/jaba.2011.44-255
Korkman, M., Kirk, U., & Kemp, S. (2007). NEPSY—second edition (NEPSY–II). San Antonio, TX: Harcourt Assessment.
LeBlanc, L. A., Coates, A. M., Daneshvar, S., Charlop-Christy, M. H., Morris, C., & Lancaster, B. M. (2003). Using video modeling and reinforcement to teach perspective-taking skills to children with autism. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 36, 253–257. https://doi.org/10.1901/jaba.2003.36-253
Lovett, S., & Rehfeldt, R. A. (2014). An evaluation of multiple exemplar instruction to teach perspective-taking skills to adolescents with Asperger syndrome. Behavioral Development Bulletin, 19, 22–36. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0100575
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, 281–300. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.2044-835x.1998.tb00753.x
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, 367–387. https://doi.org/10.1177/1362361398024004
McHugh, L., Barnes-Holmes, Y., & Barnes-Holmes, D. (2004). Perspective-taking as relational responding: A developmental profile. The Psychological Record, 54, 115–144.
Minkin, N., Braukmann, C. J., Minkin, B. L., Timbers, G. D., Timbers, B. J., Fixsen, D. L., et al. (1976). The social validation and training of conversation skills. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 9, 127–139.
Montoya-Rodríguez, M. M., & Molina Cobos, F. J. (2016). Relationship between deictic relational responding and theory of mind tasks in children: a pilot study. The Psychological Record, 66, 573–587. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40732-016-0193-0
Montoya-Rodríguez, M. M., Molina, F. J., & McHugh, L. (2017). A review of relational frame theory research into deictic relational responding. The Psychological Record, 67, 569–579. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40732-016-0216-x
Mori, A., & Cigala, A. (2016). Perspective taking: training procedures in developmentally typical preschoolers. Different intervention methods and their effectiveness. Educational Psychology Review, 28, 267–294. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-015-9306-6
O’Neill, D. K. (1996). Two-year-old children’s sensitivity to a parent’s knowledge state when making requests. Child Development, 67, 659–677. https://doi.org/10.2307/1131839
Olivar-Parra, J.-S., De-La-Iglesia-Gutiérrez, M., & Forns, M. (2011). Training referential communicative skills to individuals with autism spectrum disorder: a pilot study. Psychological Reports, 109, 921–939. https://doi.org/10.2466/10.11.15.28.PR0.109.6.921-939
Ordetx, K. (2012). Teaching theory of mind: a curriculum for children with high functioning autism, Asperger’s syndrome, and related social challenges. London, England: Kingsley.
Paynter, J., & Peterson, C. C. (2013). Further evidence of benefits of thought-bubble training for theory of mind development in children with autism spectrum disorders. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 7, 344–348. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rasd.2012.10.001
Perner, J., & Wimmer, H. (1985). “John thinks that Mary thinks that…” attribution of second-order beliefs by 5- to 10-year-old children. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 39, 437–471. https://doi.org/10.1016/0022-0965(85)90051-7
Perner, J., Leekam, S. R., & Wimmer, H. (1987). Three-year-olds’ difficulty with false belief: the case for a conceptual deficit. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 5, 125–137. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.2044-835X.1987.tb01048.x
Perner, J., Frith, U., Leslie, A. M., & Leekam, S. R. (1989). Exploration of the autistic child’s theory of mind: knowledge, belief, and communication. Child Development, 60, 689–700. https://doi.org/10.2307/1130734
Peters, L. C., & Thompson, R. H. (2015). Teaching children with autism to respond to conversation partners’ interest. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 48, 544–562. https://doi.org/10.1002/jaba.235
Peterson, C. C., Garnett, M., Kelly, A., & Attwood, T. (2009). Everyday social and conversation applications of theory-of-mind understanding by children with autism-spectrum disorders or typical development. European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 18, 105–115. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00787-008-0711-y
Premack, D., & Woodruff, G. (1978). Does the chimpanzee have a theory of mind? The Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 4, 515–526. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0140525x00076512
Ranick, J., Persicke, A., Tarbox, J., & Kornack, J. A. (2013). Teaching children with autism to detect and respond to deceptive statements. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 7, 503–508. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rasd.2012.12.001
Reed, T., & Peterson, C. (1990). A comparative study of autistic subjects’ performance at two levels of visual and cognitive perspective taking. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 20, 555–567. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02216060
Reinecke, D. R., Newman, B., Kurtz, A. L., Ryan, C. S., & Hemmes, N. S. (1997). Teaching deception skills in a game-play context to three adolescents with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 27, 127–137. https://doi.org/10.1023/a:1025835706522
Sautter, R. A., LeBlanc, L. A., Jay, A. A., Goldsmith, T. R., & Carr, J. E. (2011). The role of problem solving in complex intraverbal repertoires. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 44, 227–244. https://doi.org/10.1901/jaba.2011.44-227
Schwartz, I. S., & Baer, D. M. (1991). Social validity assessments: is current practice state of the art? Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 24, 189–204. https://doi.org/10.1901/jaba.1991.24-189
Skinner, B. F. (1957). Verbal behavior. Acton, MA: Copley Publishing Group.
Stokes, T. F., & Baer, D. M. (1977). An implicit technology of generalization. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 10, 349–367.
Swettenham, J. (1996). Can children with autism be taught to understand false belief using computers? Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 37, 157–165. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-7610.1996.tb01387.x
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, 73–88. https://doi.org/10.1080/135468096396712
Tager-Flusberg, H. (2007). Evaluating the theory-of-mind hypothesis of autism. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 16, 311–315. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8721.2007.00527.x
Taylor-Santa, C., Kisamore, A. N., Reeve, S. A., & Sidener, T. M. (2015, October). Perspective taking: a functional account and review of the literature. In S. A. Reeve (Ed.), Teaching children with autism complex social skills. Amherst, MA: Symposium conducted at the meeting of the Berkshire Association for Behavior Analysis and Therapy.
Toomey, M. M. (2002). The language of perspective taking. Maplewood, NJ: Circuit Publications.
Wellman, H. M., Baron-Cohen, S., Caswell, R., Gomez, J., Swettenham, J., Toye, E., & Lagattuta, K. (2002). Thought-bubbles help children with autism acquire an alternative to a theory of mind. Autism, 6, 343–363. https://doi.org/10.1177/1362361302006004003
Wimmer, H., & Perner, J. (1983). Beliefs about beliefs: representation and constraining function of wrong beliefs in young children’s understanding of deception. Cognition, 13, 103–128. https://doi.org/10.1016/0010-0277(83)90004-5
Winner, M. G. (2005). Think social! A social thinking curriculum for school age students. San Jose, CA: Social Thinking Publishing.
Yirmiya, N., Erel, O., Shaked, M., & Solomonica-Levi, D. (1998). Meta-analyses comparing theory of mind abilities of individuals with autism, individuals with mental retardation, and normally developing individuals. Psychological Bulletin, 124, 283–307. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.124.3.283
We would like to thank Gregory Hanley, Amanda Karsten, and David Palmer for their helpful comments and guidance on an earlier version of this manuscript and Jill Harper for interrater agreement.
This study was conducted in partial fulfillment of Lindsay C. Peters’ requirements for her doctoral degree at Western New England University.
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
About this article
Cite this article
Peters, L.C., Thompson, R.H. How Teaching Perspective Taking to Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders Affects Social Skills: Findings from Research and Suggestions for Practitioners. Behav Analysis Practice 11, 467–478 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40617-018-0207-2
- Perspective taking
- Theory of mind
- Relational frame theory
- Deictic frames
- Social skills