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Does theory of mind performance differ in children with early-onset and regressive autism?


Wendy A. Goldberg, Department of Psychology and Social Behavior, University of California, Irvine, Irvine, CA 92697, USA; e-mail:


A deficit in theory of mind (ToM), or the ability to infer the mental states of others, has been implicated as one of the major characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD); however, little attention has been devoted to possible differences in ToM ability within ASD. The current study examined ToM performance in children with early-onset autism and regressive autism in comparison to typically developing children. Results indicated that children in the regressive autism group performed significantly better than the early-onset autism group on the non-verbal appearance–reality task. Additionally, Fisher’s exact tests indicated a pattern of lowest scores in the early-onset group and highest scores in the typically developing group, whereas the regressive autism group tended to score in between the early-onset and typically developing groups. The apparent heterogeneity in ToM performance within ASD could account for the lack of universality in ToM ability found in previous studies.