Comparing Theory of Mind Development in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Developmental Language Disorder, and Typical Development

Esther Schwartz Offek, Osnat Segal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Theory of mind (ToM) is the ability to recognize, comprehend, and consider oneself’s and others’ mental states and perspectives to predict and explain behaviors and motivations. It is widely accepted that children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) experience difficulties with ToM. However, there are also findings suggesting that ToM abilities might also be compromised in children with Developmental Language Disorders (DLD). Purpose: To assess ToM abilities in three groups of children: 1. ASD with no language difficulties; 2. DLD, known for their language disorder; and 3. TD with no language issues. Materials and Methods: A total of 41 preschool children aged 5-to-6 were examined and assigned to one of the three groups based on previous clinical reports and a standardized Hebrew language assessment tool. Nonverbal IQ was established with a standardized test to verify within average range placement (>75 IQ). ToM skills were examined with a Hebrew version of the ToM Task Battery and parent’s questionnaire (ToMI). Results: Children with ASD had significantly lower ToM scores compared to the children with DLD, and TD. The ToM scores of the children with DLD were similar to the scores of the TD children. According to the parents’ questionnaires, both the ASD children and the DLD children had less developed ToM skills compared to their TD peers. Conclusion: The present findings suggest that children with ASD have a fundamental difficulty in ToM that is independent of their language abilities. Children with DLD show difficulties in everyday social interactions that involve ToM. It is possible that both ASD and language disorders influence ToM development, suggesting that different developmental routes affect the acquisition of ToM.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2349-2359
Number of pages11
JournalNeuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment
StatePublished - 2022


  • DLD
  • ToM
  • ToMI
  • ToMTB
  • autism

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry


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