The Benefits of Theory of Mind (ToM)

Deficits with theory of mind skills are a common issue for individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Theory of mind (ToM) refers to the ability to understand one’s own mental state (e.g., beliefs, intentions, etc.) and to understand that other people may have different mental states (i.e., they do not share the same beliefs, intentions, etc.). Dr. Carol Westby is a well-known speech-language pathologist who has received national awards for her research and clinical service in child language development.

During a recent presentation, Dr. Westby described the development of theory of mind (including the stages of development and environmental factors) and the most current, research-based interventions to implement with individuals with ToM deficits. Her presentation explained the negative impact that deficits in theory of mind can have on all social relationships, including relationships with peers, employers, and community members. Targeting cognitive theory of mind skills during language classes at League School is used as a step towards generalizing these skills to social situations. For example, inferential skills are targeted using role-play scenarios, thought “bubble” cards, and iPad applications (e.g., Autism Xpress, iConversation). Dr. Westby suggests activities targeting specific inference skills through “think-alouds” or “Q&A with the author” support individuals’ inferential understanding. Emotional understanding should also be taught across activities to promote affective theory of mind (i.e., understanding why a person may feel the way he does).

ToM is an essential skill that will continue to be targeted with our students with ASD to promote positive social relationships across all settings.

Christina McCarrick, MS, CCC-SLP
Speech-Language Pathologist
League School of Greater Boston


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