Thursday, May 20, 2010
Franklin Hall B Level 4 (Philadelphia Marriott Downtown)
Background: The “theory of mind” (ToM) deficit, the ability to attribute representational mental states, is one of the core deficits in Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDDs). The difficulty in attributing mental states such as beliefs, intentions and desires to oneself and others is considered to be responsible for the major impairments in the social and communicative domains in autism. Emotional comprehension is another specific deficit in autism which can account for the peculiarities of the social communication in PDDs. A main line of research in the field concerns therefore the designing of tests and tasks to assess this abilities and their interrelationship in PDD subjects. The ToM Storybooks (Blijd-Hoogewys, et al., 2008) measures a full range of ToM components and it is not limited to the standard false belief task, differently from the classical research tasks. TEC (Test of Emotion Comprehension: Pons, Harris, 2000; Albanese, Molina, 2008) is meant to assess emotion comprehension as defined by several components concerning the nature and causes of emotions, and the control of emotional expression. ToM Storybooks and TEC are promising tools for the evaluation of ToM and emotion comprehension respectively in PDDs. Both tests have been translated into Italian by the proponents and are currently being standardized on the Italian population. The standardization sample of the TEC includes 967 Italian children, stratified by gender, age (3-11 years) and region (North or Centre of Italy), while the ToM Storybooks Italian standardization study includes 204 normally developing children (from 3 to 8 years, equally distributed by gender and year of age). The overall correlation between the two tests is good, even controlling for age (N=60; rho=.77, p<.01; controlling for age: r=.37, P<.01).
The current study aims at verifying ToM Storybooks and TEC discriminant validity in a sample of PDD subjects and at confirming the correlation between the two instruments in atypically developing children.
Methods: The study includes 9 PDD children (all males, were diagnosed according to ICD-10; average chronological age=114 months) so far, and we expect to collect data on 20 more children in the next months. ToM Storybook and TEC were administered to all subjects. Leiter-R Scale and PPVT-R were used to control for non-verbal cognitive level and linguistic competence respectively.
All children show a delay in linguistic competence (PPVT-R standardized score: mean=80.67; SD=14.63), while the non verbal cognitive IQ is good (Leiter-R: mean=101; SD=15.47). Nevertheless, the most severe delay regards the social cognition: both TEC and ToM Storybooks performances are lower than 25° percentile for all the children but one (TEC standardized score: mean=-1,88, SD=1,66). The correlation between the tests is very good (r=.761, p<.05), even controlling for age (r=.813, p<.05), for IQ (r=.730, p<.05) and for language (r=.814, p<.05). A matching procedure (Jarrold, Brock, 2004) with a typically developing sample is ongoing and will be discussed at the congress.
Our data seem promising in supporting discriminant validity of TEC and ToM Storybooks in respect of social cognition evaluation in PDD children, and confirm the relationship between the two tests.