Theory of Mind

Theory of Mind


What is it?

Theory of mind (ToM) is an understanding that others have different minds from our own. More specifically, it is an ability to attribute mental states (e.g. thoughts, feelings, intentions) to others, and to understand that others’ mental states can differ from ours. ToM impacts one’s ability to perspective-take, read emotions, understand and predict behaviour, pick up on non-verbal cues and “hidden” social rules, and more. Given ToM’s importance in social interaction, a deficit in ToM may be central to many challenges associated with ASD.

When do you use it?

Typically developing children start to develop ToM around age 4. Research suggests that children with ASD develop ToM skills later and that they may have persistent difficulties.

Deficits in ToM impact students in different ways. Many students may have difficulty showing empathy, distinguishing fact from fiction, understanding sarcasm, and understanding how someone else thinks and feels, to name a few. As such, explicit teaching to support social understanding and skills is crucial.

What strategies are available to teach ToM?

Comic Strip Conversations are simple drawings that visually represent a conversation, as well as the thoughts and feelings, between the student and one or more peers during social interactions. They can be used to clarify misunderstandings, allow for reflection of specific interactions, and identify potential solutions and strategies that could have been used or could be used next time.

Social Cognition skills include those related to ToM. The following resources include different curriculums aimed at explicitly teaching student’s these skills to improve social interaction and facilitate friendships.


Social Thinking:

Laugeson, E. A. (2014). The PEERS curriculum for school-based professionals: Social skills training for adolescents with autism spectrum disorder. New York, NY: Routledge.

McAfee, J. (2013). Navigating the social world: A curriculum for individuals with asperger’s syndrome, high functioning autism and related disorders. Arlington, TX: Future Horizons.

Myles, B.S., Trautman, M.L., & Schelvan, R.L. (2004). The hidden curriculum: Practical solutions for understanding unstated rules in social situations. Shawnee Mission, KS: Autism Asperger.