Theory of mind is often considered one of the core areas of deficit for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Do we have, however, content valid tools that help us understand areas of relative strength and challenge for children with ASD across the many dimensions of theory of mind? This course describes theory of mind and its implications for children with ASD, highlights the challenges in current assessment approaches and offers an innovative approach to theory of mind assessment that is both content valid and easy to use. Further, the presenters link assessment to intervention, demonstrating a profile approach to understanding theory of mind in individual children with ASD. Case examples are presented that link assessment to intervention targets.
Patricia Prelock, Ph.D.,CCC-SLP, BCS-CL, is Dean of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences, Professor of Communication Sciences & Disorders, and Professor of Pediatrics in the College of Medicine at the University of Vermont. Dr. Prelock coordinates parent training programs designed for caregivers of children with autism spectrum disorders and has been awarded more than 11 million dollars in university, state and federal funding as a PI or Co-PI to develop innovations in interdisciplinary training supporting children and youth with neurodevelopmental disabilities and their families, to facilitate training in speech-language pathology, and to support her intervention work in autism spectrum disorders. She has over 155 publications and 500 peer-reviewed and invited presentations in the areas of autism and other neurodevelopmental disabilities, collaboration, language assessment and intervention, and language learning disabilities. Dr. Prelock received the 1998 Friends Award through the Vermont Parent Information Center and the first annual Autism Society of Vermont Excellence in Service Award in 2000. She also received the University of Vermont’s Kroepsch-Maurice Excellence in Teaching Award in 2000. Dr. Prelock was named an ASHA Fellow in 2000 and a University of Vermont Scholar in 2003. She was awarded the Puppets Choice Award through Kids on the Block of Vermont in 2010 for her work in autism. In 2011 she was named the Cecil & Ida Green Honors Professor Visiting Scholar at Texas Christian University and in 2014, she and her colleagues received the Editor’s Award for the best paper in Contemporary Issues in Communication Sciences and Disorders. In 2015 Dr. Prelock was named a Distinguished Alumnus of the University of Pittsburgh. In 2016, she was awarded the Honors of Association, the highest honor given by the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA). She and her colleagues were recognized for a meritorious poster submission for the 2016 ASHA Convention. Dr. Prelock earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Kent State University and her doctoral degree from the University of Pittsburgh. She is a Board Certified Specialist in Child Language, and a Hanen certified SLP for It takes Two to Talk, More Than Words and Talkability. She was the President Elect (2012), President (2013) and Past President (2014) for the American Speech-Language Hearing Association, a member organization of more than 180,000 speech-language pathologists and audiologists. Currently, she serves as the Chair for the ASHA Committee on Leadership Cultivation and is a member of the ASHA Foundation Board.
Tiffany L. Hutchins is an associate professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of Vermont. She earned an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in cognitive neuroscience in experimental psychology and communication sciences and disorders at the University of South Florida in 2002. Dr. Hutchins’ research focuses on social cognition in typical and atypical development and she has over 50 peer-reviewed and editor-reviewed journal publications, test reviews, and book chapters related to this topic. More specifically, Dr. Hutchins’ primary research foci examine 1) the links from maternal interaction styles to children’s social, cognitive, and linguistic development, 2) the efficacy of story-based interventions to remediate the core deficits of autism spectrum disorder, 3) the development and validation of measures of ‘theory of mind’ and, 4) visual attention to social stimuli in children and adolescents on the autism spectrum. Dr. Hutchins is internationally recognized for her work on the measurement of ‘theory of mind’ and her tools have been validated by independent researchers and translated into more than 40 languages worldwide. Dr. Hutchins has delivered over 100 presentations at national and international conferences and venues. She was also recently honored with the Research Award from the College of Nursing and Health Sciences at the University of Vermont.
One of the primary characteristics of autism is a significant impairment in social understanding. Baron-Cohen and colleagues (1985) have associated the challenges in social understanding with the development of theory of mind in children with ASD. It is important that clinicians understand what theory of mind is and that the dimensions of theory of mind suggest a larger weakness in social cognition.
In this section we will highlight the limitations of ToM assessments including motivational, situational, cognitive & linguistic factors; issues of social validity and interpretation; and trying to make sense of a developmental model. To help participants understand ToM assessment in the context of social communication deficits in children with ASD, we will examine three levels of functioning: biological, cognitive and behavioral.
In this section of the presentation we present a comprehensive parent-information measure of ToM that addresses the challenges of traditional ToM assessments. As a parent informant measure, the ToMI-2 utilizes information that has been accumulated by the informant over time using questions that span a range of ToM knowledge areas. It is a more comprehensive and ecological valid approach as the questions represent real situations with an evaluation from the parent who knows the child best.