"Theory of mind" in children with autism and in other neurodevelopmental disorders
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder with biological origins. It produces mental handicap distinguished by severe impairments in social competence.
Research by this laboratory over the last 25 years has shown that children with autism have a specific impairment in their ability to develop "theory of mind."
Despite typically out-performing preschool children on a wide range of general reasoning tasks, older children with autism do quite poorly on reasoning about "theory of mind." Children with other mental handicaps, such as Down's or William's syndrome, do not show this pattern. It is likely that impairment to a specialized "theory of mind" mechanism in the brain plays an important role in producing the distinctive impairments in social and communicative competence seen in the syndrome of childhood autism.
We are continuing to investigate the nature of the cognitive mechanisms that comprise the "theory of mind" instinct and their impairment in childhood autism. In our lab, the study of normal development goes hand in hand with the study of abnormal development.