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Understanding of thought bubbles as mental representations in children with autism : implications for theory of mind

Kerr, Sharyn and Durkin, Kevin (2004) Understanding of thought bubbles as mental representations in children with autism : implications for theory of mind. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 34 (6). pp. 637-648. ISSN 0162-3257

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Abstract

Standard false belief tasks indicate that normally developing children do not fully develop a theory of mind until the age of 4 years and that children with autism have an impaired theory of mind. Recent evidence, however, suggests that children as young as 3 years of age understand that thought bubbles depict mental representations and that these can be false. Twelve normally developing children and 11 children with autism were tested on a standard false belief task and a number of tasks that employed thought bubbles to represent mental states. While the majority of normally developing children and children with autism failed the standard false belief task, they understood that (i) thought bubbles represent thought, (ii) thought bubbles can be used to infer an unknown reality, (iii) thoughts can be different, and (iv) thoughts can be false. These results indicate that autistic children with a relatively low verbal mental age may be capable of understanding mental representations.