Developmental Science

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Volume 8 Issue 6 (November 2005), Pages F31-F36, 459-620

Foundations for self and other: a study in autism (pages 481-491)


There is controversy over the basis for young children's experience of themselves and other people as separate yet related individuals, each with a mental perspective on the world – and over the nature of corresponding deficits in autism. Here we tested a form of self–other connectedness (identification) in children with and without autism, who were group‐matched according to CA (approximately 6 to 16 years) and verbal MA (approximately inline image to 14 years), and therefore IQ. We gave two forms of a novel ‘sticker test’ in which children needed to communicate to another person where on her body she should place her sticker‐badge. Across the trials of Study 1, all of the non‐autistic children pointed to their own bodies at least once, but over half the children with autism failed to point to themselves at all, even though they communicated successfully in other ways. In Study 2, where a screen was introduced to hide the tester's body, group differences in the children's communicative self‐orientated gestures were most marked after the tester had ‘modelled’ a point‐to‐herself gesture in communicating to the child. Our interpretation is that autism involves a relative failure to adopt the bodily‐anchored psychological and communicative stance of another person. We suggest that this process of identification is essential to self–other relations and grounds young children's developing understanding of minds.

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