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Social maturity and theory of mind in typically developing children and those on the autism spectrum

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Background: 

Results of several studies using the Vineland scale to explore links between social behavior and theory of mind (ToM) have produced mixed results, especially for children on the autism spectrum. The present pair of studies developed a psychometrically sound, age-referenced measure of social maturity to explore these issues further. Method: 

In Study 1, 37 typically developing preschoolers took a battery of standard false belief tests of ToM and were rated by their teachers on a newly developed age-referenced social maturity scale with 7 items. In Study 2, a further group of 43 children aged 4 to 12 years (13 with autism, 14 with Asperger's disorder and 16 with typical development) took part in the same procedure. Results: 

In Study 1, ToM was found to predict typical preschoolers’ social maturity independently of age and verbal maturity. In Study 2, children with autism scored below age-matched and younger typical developers in both ToM and social maturity. Those with Asperger's disorder did well on ToM but poorly on social maturity. Study 2 replicated Study 1’s finding (for typical children and for the full sample) that ToM was linked with social maturity independently of age and verbal ability, although the link was not independent of autism diagnosis. Conclusions: 

Teachers are capable of rating children's social behavior with peers as advanced, on-time or delayed for their age. Suggestive links between these ratings and ToM require further investigation, especially among children on the autism spectrum.
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Keywords: Asperger's disorder; Autism; social maturity; theory-of-mind

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2007

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