Internal State Language and Theory of Mind Development in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
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This study investigated the Internal State (IS) language input of parents, IS language use by children, and children’s performance on perspective taking and false belief Theory of Mind (ToM) tasks. Two groups of participants were included: children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) (N = 12, M chronological age = 7; 4, M language age = 6;0) and typically-developing (TD) children (N = 13, M chronological age = 6;0, M language age= 6;5), matched on language age. Independent means samples t-tests showed that the transcripts of the two groups of parents or the two groups of children did not differ in regards to total number of words, utterances, or mean length of utterance. ANOVAs were used to test for differences in IS language category or elaboration in the two groups (ASD, TD), in parents and children. For the parent data, no statistically significant differences emerged. For the analysis of child talk the ANOVA revealed that the main effect of group approached significance, with a trend towards TD children using more IS language than children with ASD. ANOVAs were also used to test for differences in ToM task performance (perspective-taking, false belief) in the two groups of children; TD children performed significantly better on ToM Tasks overall than the children with ASD. Partial correlations found that for the TD group, there were no significant correlations between the parent’s or the child’s use of IS language with the child’s performance on ToM tasks when chronological age was controlled for. For the ASD group, after controlling for chronological age and language age, the parent’s use of elaborated affect terms was significantly positively correlated with their child’s performance score on perspective-taking tasks, and the parent’s use of elaborated cognitive terms was significantly negatively correlated with their child’s performance on false-belief tasks. Also for the ASD group, the child’s use of simple affect terms was significantly positively correlated with their performance on false belief tasks after controlling for chronological age and language age. Findings are discussed in relation to prior research and clinical implications.