Theory of mind, social communication, and executive functioning in children with autism spectrum disorders

Anne Blinkoff, Pace University


Autism is primarily a deficit in social interaction. Having a better understanding of the social skills deficits inherent in autism can help professionals to design interventions that can help children to better navigate the social realm, form deeper attachments with their caregivers, and expand their support network. This study reviews the current literature, addresses methodological flaws that are commonly used in research with autism, and investigates Theory of Mind (ToM), Social Communication, and Executive Functioning (EF) in 31 children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). The participants of this study were be between the ages of 5–16 years old and diagnosed ASD. They were administered the DANVA2 as well as the Theory of Mind and Inhibition subtests of the NEPSY-II. Parents completed the Social Communication Questionnaire (SCQ) to screen for symptom severity. A series of simple correlations were run between the variables. While symptom severity, as measured by the SCQ, did not correlate with the ToM, affect recognition, or EF variables, there were statistically significant relationships between the DANVA2, the Theory of Mind subtests of the NEPSY-II, and various components of the Inhibition subtest. To explore the hypothesis that EF mediates the relationship between affect recognition and ToM, bootstrapping was used with the DANVA2 as the Independent Variable, ToM as the Dependent Variable, and Inhibition as the Potential Mediator. EF was found to mediate the relationship between affect recognition and theory of mind. The fact that EF abilities accounted for the relationship between affect recognition and ToM abilities demonstrates the need to treat executive dysfunction in children on the autism spectrum. Lastly, this study reviews interventions that school and clinical psychologists can use with children on the autism spectrum to help them improve their executive functioning and social communication abilities.

Subject Area

Social psychology|Clinical psychology|Cognitive psychology

Recommended Citation

Blinkoff, Anne, "Theory of mind, social communication, and executive functioning in children with autism spectrum disorders" (2010). ETD Collection for Pace University. AAI3435611.



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