The Mind Behind the Message: Advancing Theory-of-Mind Scales for Typically Developing Children, and Those With Deafness, Autism, or Asperger Syndrome


  • The authors thank the children who participated and their parents and teachers. This research was partly supported by an Australian Research Council Discovery grant to Peterson, Slaughter, and Wellman and a U.S. National Institute of Health grant to Wellman.

concerning this article should be addressed to Candida C. Peterson, School of Psychology, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland 4072, Australia. Electronic mail may be sent to


Children aged 3–12 years (n = 184) with typical development, deafness, autism, or Asperger syndrome took a series of theory-of-mind (ToM) tasks to confirm and extend previous developmental scaling evidence. A new sarcasm task, in the format of H. M. Wellman and D. Liu’s (2004) 5-step ToM Scale, added a statistically reliable 6th step to the scale for all diagnostic groups. A key previous finding, divergence in task sequencing for children with autism, was confirmed. Comparisons among diagnostic groups, controlling age, and language ability, showed that typical developers mastered the 6 ToM steps ahead of each of the 3 disabled groups, with implications for ToM theories. The final (sarcasm) task challenged even nondisabled 9-year-olds, demonstrating the new scale’s sensitivity to post-preschool ToM growth.