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How Teaching Perspective Taking to Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders Affects Social Skills: Findings from Research and Suggestions for Practitioners

Abstract

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.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    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).

  2. 2.

    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.).

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Acknowledgements

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.

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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

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Keywords

  • Perspective taking
  • Theory of mind
  • Relational frame theory
  • Deictic frames
  • Social skills