Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Science



First Advisor

Cay Anderson-Hanley




children, adolescents, autism, students, theory of mind


Theory of Mind (ToM) is the ability to recognize mental states of oneself and that of other individuals (Parsons & Mitchell, 2002), which typically evolves with age in normative individuals (Hutchins et al., 2011). Research has shown that autistic (ASD) individuals lack a developed ToM and that this triggers social impairments (Rajendran, 2013; Mathersul et al., 2013). The developmental progress of ToM in children on the spectrum is unknown; therefore, this study analyzed normative individuals and those on the spectrum to discover how the development of ToM in these two groups may differ with age. This study hypothesized that normative individuals would have a more developed ToM than those on the spectrum, and thus score higher on the ToM Task Battery, and that the developmental trajectory of ToM would be slower for ASD individuals, but that the difference in ToM between ASD children and adolescents would be greater than that difference for the normative samples. Forty students participated in this study; 20 participants were ASD and 20 were normative. In addition, half were ages 6-10 and half were ages 11-15. Participants’ guardian was sent the informed consent forms and the ToM Inventory to fill out at home. All participants completed the ToM Task Battery in their school environment. T-tests and ANOVAs revealed that normative students were found to have a more developed ToM than the ASD students, this difference persisted even when compared to only the higher functioning ASD students (n = 14; p = .002). In addition, the normative individuals’ ToM (both guardian and student rated) was more advanced and was consistent with typical development across age, whereas ASD individuals’ ToM was underdeveloped (p<.001), but showed significant gains when comparing the younger and older age groups (p = .002). Given these cross-sectional differences, it can be inferred that the ASD individuals' developmental trajectory is much slower than that of normative individuals; however, these results also indicate that ASD individuals may continue to develop their ToM with age. Key words: Theory of Mind, autism, adolescents, and children.