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Understanding Atypical Emotions Among Children with Autism

Abstract

Children with autism are said to be poor mind readers: They have a limited understanding of the role that mental states play in determining emotions and behavior. In this research, 23 high-functioning children from the autistic spectrum (M age 9 years 3 months), 42 6-year-old controls, and 43 10-year-old controls were presented with six emotion-evoking stories and they were asked to explain protagonists' typical and atypical emotions. In the case of typical emotions, as expected on the basis of the mindblind hypothesis, children from the autistic spectrum gave few mental state explanations, referring to fewer than even the 6-year-old control group. However, in the case of atypical emotions, the autistic group performed as well as the 10-year-old controls. Their explanations for the atypical emotions demonstrate that children from the autistic spectrum indeed have the capacity to mind read (with respect to both desires and beliefs), although they do not always use this capacity in the same way as normally developing children. It is argued that the mind-reading capacity of high-functioning children from the autistic spectrum might be basically intact; unused in everyday circumstances but not necessarily defective.

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Rieffe, C., Terwogt, M.M. & Stockmann, L. Understanding Atypical Emotions Among Children with Autism. J Autism Dev Disord 30, 195–203 (2000). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1005540417877

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  • High functioning children with autism
  • theory of mind
  • emotions
  • multiple complex developmental disorder