Project: Theory of mind in children with autism spectrum disorder & attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: The role of inhibitory control and working memory

Centre for Leadership in Child Development

Project: Theory of mind in children with autism spectrum disorder & attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: The role of inhibitory control and working memory

Investigators:

What was this study about?

We are interested in studying children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and hoping to understand any challenges in thinking.

We want to learn how children with ASD view another person’s perspective or theory of mind (ToM).

We predicted that being able to control thinking (inhibition) or being able to remember better, may help on ToM tasks. In Phase 1 we examined the results of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to understand ToM functioning.

What did we do?

  • We looked at information from the Province of Ontario Neurodevelopmental Disorders (POND) database.
  • We examined the results of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to understand ToM functioning.
  • The ToM task identified for the study was the Eyes task which shows how well facial emotions can be recognized.
  • A stop task on the computer was used to see if a child can inhibit thinking.
  • A memory task with numbers was used to see how well children can remember.

Impact for clients, families and clinical practice

Children with ASD and ADHD may have overlapping difficulties in thinking and we know the two conditions can occur in the same child. We can improve care for both of these groups of children if we can better understand how thinking may be the same or different.

What did we learn?

The results of our study from Phase 1 did not show a relationship between ToM and the executive functions of response inhibition (stop task) and working memory (memory number task).

  • We did find that ToM improves as children develop
  • Girls showed stronger ToM task performance
  • Children with more hyperactive symptoms have difficulty on the ToM task.

Finally, higher verbal IQ did not improve ToM, probably because the ToM task was more visual (interpreting facial expressions).

Next steps

In Phase 2, we are studying the same tasks with the ASD group to see how the findings compare to the ADHD group. The information will also come from the POND database for the children with ASD.