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Dev Sci. 2017 Mar;20(2). doi: 10.1111/desc.12368. Epub 2015 Dec 8.

Children with autism are impaired in the understanding of teaching.

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Department of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School, USA.
Division of General Academic Pediatrics, Massachusetts General Hospital, USA.
Center for Mental Health Policy & Services Research, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, USA.
Division of Applied Psychology and Human Development, Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania, USA.


Children learn novel information using various methods, and one of the most common is human pedagogical communication or teaching - the purposeful imparting of information from one person to another. Neuro-typically developing (TD) children gain the ability to recognize and understand teaching as a core method for acquiring knowledge from others. However, it is not known when children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) acquire the ability to recognize and understand teaching. This study (total N = 70) examined whether children with ASD recognize the two central elements that define teaching: (1) that teaching is an intentional activity; and (2) that teaching requires a knowledge difference between teacher and learner. Theory of mind understanding was also tested. Compared to individually matched TD children, high cognitively functioning children with ASD were impaired in their comprehension of both components of teaching understanding, and their performance was correlated with theory of mind understanding. These findings could have broad implications for explaining learning in children with autism, and could help in designing more effective interventions, which could ultimately lead to improved learning outcomes for everyday life skills, school performance, health, and overall well-being.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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