The autistic child's theory of mind: a case of specific developmental delay

J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 1989 Mar;30(2):285-97. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.1989.tb00241.x.


In previous tests of the lowest level of a "theory of mind" (i.e. first-order belief attribution), 80% of autistic children were found to be impaired relative to a non-autistic mentally-handicapped control group. The present study examines the 20% of autistic children who have a theory of mind at the lowest level, and tests their ability to use a theory of mind at higher levels (i.e. second-order belief attribution). This autistic subgroup, in comparison to Down's Syndrome and normal control groups, was found to be severely impaired at the higher level. Autism is discussed as a possible case of specific developmental delay.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Autistic Disorder / psychology*
  • Child
  • Cognition
  • Down Syndrome / psychology
  • Humans
  • Memory
  • Models, Psychological
  • Social Perception*