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Why Language Matters for Theory of Mind$
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Janet Wilde Astington and Jodie A. Baird

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780195159912

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195159912.001.0001

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How Language Facilitates the Acquisition of False-Belief Understanding in Children with Autism

How Language Facilitates the Acquisition of False-Belief Understanding in Children with Autism

Chapter:
(p.298) 14 How Language Facilitates the Acquisition of False-Belief Understanding in Children with Autism
Source:
Why Language Matters for Theory of Mind
Author(s):

Helen Tager-Flusberg

Robert M. Joseph

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195159912.003.0014

This chapter presents findings that show how language facilitates the acquisition of false-belief understanding in children with autism. It examines autism as a window on the relation between language and theory of mind. It is well known that individuals with autism have deficits in both domains. However, despite these impairments, a small percentage of individuals with autism routinely pass theory-of-mind tasks, specifically, false-belief tasks. The chapter takes a closer look at these individuals, focusing on the unique role language plays in facilitating their success on the false-belief task. It argues that, for individuals with autism, language—in particular, knowledge of sentential complements—serves to bootstrap the meta-representational understanding of mental states necessary for success on false-belief tasks. In support of this view, the chapter reports that knowledge of complements for verbs of communication is uniquely important for this group. It also suggests that there are two components to theory of mind: social-perceptual abilities and social-cognitive understanding.

Keywords:   language, children, autism, theory of mind, false-belief tasks, mental states, sentential complements, verbs, social-perceptual abilities, social-cognitive understanding

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