A cognitive strategy to improve reading comprehension and mental state attribution in children with autism spectrum disorder.
Thesis DisciplineHealth Sciences
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Science
Background: The skill to attribute mental states to the self and others, or Theory of Mind (ToM), is a problem seen universally amongst children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and may also affect the ability to make inferences about characters while reading narrative text. Aim: The aim of this study was to teach four male participants with ASD an explicit cognitive strategy to answer inferential questions and provide feedback regarding their answers to improve their reading comprehension and ToM. Method: A single case study ABC design was used to assess the effect of the intervention. The participants read five short narrative passages each session for 20 sessions, and answered one factual and one inferential question following each passage. Specific feedback was used to respond to the answers of each question in the intervention phase. Pre- and post-intervention levels of reading comprehension and ToM were measured. Results: All four participants improved their reading comprehension in a pre and post-intervention test and three of the four participants improved their ToM understanding, although their ability to answer inferential questions involving ToM did not improve greatly. Limitations: Limitations of the study include not asking enough inferential questions involving ToM each session. During post-hoc analysis of the results it became clear that the participants could have benefited from more practice of using the strategy. Individual reading ability should have been assessed before the intervention began to determine the appropriate reading level at the beginning of the intervention. Conclusions: The explicit cognitive strategy had limited effect on participant’s ability to answer inferential questions involving ToM; however the participants improved their scores on pre and post-intervention tests of reading comprehension and ToM. These results suggest that making inferences in text may involve ToM and that the problems seen in the reading comprehension profiles of children with ASD may be attributed to their limited ToM skills.