Articles

Theory of Mind : Language and Autism

Theory of mind forms a basis for a child’s acquisition of language and the development of appropriate social behavior and skills. The earliest stages of communication depend on the infant’s interest in and engagement with other social individuals with minds, and it is through these interactions that children begin to learn words and meanings. The continuing interactions become enormously enriched by language, leading to greater understanding of the perspectives people bring to conversation. More conversation in rich social contexts allows for mental state words (think, pretend, forget) to emerge. Being able to talk about minds leads to a richer theory, one that continues to help make sense of social situations. It is through this greater comprehension, and the parallel development in metalinguistic skills, that children become capable of really understanding, and using, nonliteral language, such as jokes, metaphors, irony, sarcasm, and lies (de Villiers, de Villiers, ColesWhite, & Carpenter, 2009; Happe, 1995; ´ Tager-Flusberg, 2000). A mature ToM thus helps in the later pragmatic language developments.