How Language Facilitates the Acquisition of False-Belief Understanding in Children with Autism

Helen Tager-Flusberg and Robert M. Joseph

in Why Language Matters for Theory of Mind

Published in print April 2005 | ISBN: 9780195159912
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199847150 | DOI:
How Language Facilitates the Acquisition of False-Belief Understanding in Children with Autism

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This chapter presents findings that show how language facilitates the acquisition of false-belief understanding in children with autism. It examines autism as a window on the relation between language and theory of mind. It is well known that individuals with autism have deficits in both domains. However, despite these impairments, a small percentage of individuals with autism routinely pass theory-of-mind tasks, specifically, false-belief tasks. The chapter takes a closer look at these individuals, focusing on the unique role language plays in facilitating their success on the false-belief task. It argues that, for individuals with autism, language—in particular, knowledge of sentential complements—serves to bootstrap the meta-representational understanding of mental states necessary for success on false-belief tasks. In support of this view, the chapter reports that knowledge of complements for verbs of communication is uniquely important for this group. It also suggests that there are two components to theory of mind: social-perceptual abilities and social-cognitive understanding.

Keywords: language; children; autism; theory of mind; false-belief tasks; mental states; sentential complements; verbs; social-perceptual abilities; social-cognitive understanding

Chapter.  8659 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Cognitive Psychology

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