Social cognition in autism has been extensively investigated during the last thirty years. Children with autism are generally less good than control groups in theory of mind's tasks (Yirmiya et al. 1998; Peterson, et al. 2005). Also, emotional understanding is also regularly presented as deficient (Baron-Cohen, 1993; Celani et al., 1999; Thommen et al., 2004).
Longitudinal data and evaluation of these these abilities are yet in elaboratio. The aim of our presentation is to follow the development of social cognition through time.
We evaluated twenty eight children with autism (5- to 15-years old, M =10;6) with the French version of the Tom Storybooks (Blijd-Hoogewys at al. 2003) and French version of the TEC (Test of Emotion Comprehension, Pons & Harris, 2005). All are evaluated with the Wechsler Nonverbal Scale, the E.CO.S.SE (French equivalent of TROG) and diagnosed with the DSMIV. This evaluation is repeated three times during one year and a half. A comparison group of 64 children aged from 5- to 9-years old spent the same test battery in order to compare the results to typical development.
Results reveal that children with autism are able to attribute simple mental state to story characters. They generally understand what a belief is as well as belief changing, but they are specially impaired in false belief tasks. Longitudinal data shows improvement in their abilities, but they do not reach the level of children of their age
Implications from this research are multiple. First, the sensibility of the Tom Storybooks and the TEC to evaluate the evolution in children's theory of mind will be important for testing progress. Second, the evaluation of the developmental course of theory of mind understanding in children with autism is useful for those who try to understand this process and teach children on these abilities. Third, the comparison with control groups will confirm the specific difficulties of theory of mind comprehension in person with autism spectrum disorder.
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