Autism-Theory of Mind

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Autism is a rare developmental disorder that affects approximately four in every ten thousand children (Baron-Cohen, Leslie & Frith, 1985). Employing a clinical perspective, Kanner (1943) (as cited in Sachs, 1995) was the first to provide a description on the disorder of autism. However, in the 1970s, Wing (1970) (as cited in Sachs, 1995) applied a cognitive perspective in describing the mental structure of autism. This essay will therefore argue that autism is characterised by the lack of theory of mind (Premack & Woodruff, 1978, as cited in Baron-Cohen et al., 1985), which is a cognitive mechanism. It will further outline empirical evidence derived from the review of two studies, collectively known as false belief tasks. The Sally-Anne task and the Smarties task, in particular, will be discussed and interpreted in support with the arguing thesis.

There is no true causal definition of autism at a biological level, however, autism has been recognised to be a developmental disability affecting cognitive processing (Frith, 1997). The key behavioural deficits that characterises autism are, the inability to interact in social situations, impairments with comprehending verbal and non-verbal communication and the lack of understanding pretend and imaginative play (Wing, 1970, as cited in Sachs, 1995). Other behavioural characteristics contributing to the diagnosis of autism are, engagement in repetitive automatic movements and activities, preference to be alone, displays of self-destruction and aggressive behaviour, sensitivity to external stimuli, attacks of anxiety, and some display savant abilities (Sachs, 1995; Frith, 1997). Baron-Cohen et al. (1985) applied Wimmer and Perner's (1983) puppet play paradigm to test the hypothesis that autistic children are unable to attribute beliefs to others and are incapable of representing mental states. The participants comprised of 20 autistic children, 14 children with Down syndrome, and 27 normal...
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