What Am I Thinking? Theory of Mind Development in Autism
Seventeen adolescent students from The Monarch School of Neurological Differences with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) were tested for mentalizing deficits often found in individuals with ASD using the theory of mind (ToM) battery (Baron-Cohen, 1985). Test results revealed that twelve of the seventeen students were found to have a more advanced ToM than original research suggested. These qualifying students were administered the Strange Stories Test (Happé, 1994), a series of short vignettes in which characters must interpret contradictory statements. During Strange Stories testing, students were asked to provide explanations for their answer choices. This semi-structured interview was designed to clarify specific theories surrounding ToM acquisition as well as to uncover similarities in the experiences students have had related to mentalization. All interviews were recorded and transcribed, and two researchers applied a system of consensual qualitative coding which yielded an interrater reliability of 1.0. The primary researcher determined five overarching themes yielded post-coding. Results are explained in the context of current mentalizing theories, and implications for future research are additionally discussed.