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The association between theory of mind, executive function, and the symptoms of autism spectrum disorder

Jones, Catherine R. G. ORCID:, Simonoff, Emily, Baird, Gillian, Pickles, Andrew, Marsden, Anita J. S., Tregay, Jenifer, Happé, Francesca and Charman, Tony 2018. The association between theory of mind, executive function, and the symptoms of autism spectrum disorder. Autism Research 11 (1) , pp. 95-109. 10.1002/aur.1873

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It has been strongly argued that atypical cognitive processes in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) contribute to the expression of behavioural symptoms. Comprehensive investigation of these claims has been limited by small and unrepresentative sample sizes and the absence of wide-ranging task batteries. The current study investigated the cognitive abilities of 100 adolescents with ASD (mean age = 15 years 6 months), using 10 tasks to measure the domains of theory of mind (ToM) and executive function (EF). We used structural equation modelling as a statistically robust way of exploring the associations between cognition and parent-reported measures of social communication and restricted and repetitive behaviours (RRBs). We found that ToM ability was associated with both social communication symptoms and RRBs. EF was a correlate of ToM but had no direct association with parent-reported symptom expression. Our data suggest that in adolescence ToM ability, but not EF, is directly related to autistic symptom expression.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Psychology
Publisher: Wiley
ISSN: 1939-3792
Funders: Medical Research Council
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 9 October 2017
Date of Acceptance: 28 August 2017
Last Modified: 03 Jun 2023 05:09

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