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Abstract

Two experiments were conducted to explore the extent to which individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), as well as young typically developing (TD) children, are explicitly aware of their own and others’ intentions. In Experiment 1, participants with ASD were significantly less likely than age- and ability-matched comparison participants to correctly recognize their own knee-jerk reflex movements as unintentional. Performance on this knee-jerk task was associated with performance on measures of false belief understanding, independent of age and verbal ability, in both participants with ASD and TD children. In Experiment 2, participants with ASD were significantly less able than comparison participants to correctly recognize their own or another person’s mistaken actions as unintended, in a ‘Transparent Intentions’ task (Russell & Hill, 2001; Russell, Hill & Franco, 2001). Performance on aspects of the Transparent Intentions task was associated with performance on measures of false belief understanding, independent of age and verbal ability, in both participants with ASD and TD children. This study suggests that individuals with ASD have a diminished awareness of their own and others’ intentions and that this diminution is associated with other impairments in theory of mind.