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Original Research ARTICLE Provisionally accepted The full-text will be published soon. Notify me

Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02478

The impact of grammar on mentalizing: A training study including children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Developmental Language Disorder

  • 1Université de Genève, Switzerland
  • 2Université Grenoble Alpes, France
  • 3Smith College, United States
  • 4Université de Fribourg, Switzerland

Training on complements in English, German and Mandarin has been reported to trigger improvements on both complements and Theory of Mind (ToM), with typically developing (TD) pre-schoolers on the verge of developing these skills (Hale & Tager-Flusberg, 2003; Lohmann & Tomasello, 2003; Shuliang, Yanjie, & Sabbagh, 2014). In the current study, we build on the idea that increasing mastery of complementation holds the promise of enhancing ToM, and seek (i) to replicate the positive effects observed in previous work for this effect in French-speaking TD children, and (ii) to pilot extending this to clinical children, more specifically those with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and Developmental Language Disorders (DLD), through exploring whether improvement in the latter, clinical groups follows that of the TD group. Sixty children with Theory of Mind (ToM) difficulties, 16 with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) (aged 5;6 to 11;8), 20 with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) (aged 4;8 to 9;0) and 24 typically developing children aged (2;9 to 5;3 years), participated in a 4-week training program. Half received training targeting sentential complements and half received a control training targeting lexical skills. Complementation training, but not lexical training, led to a significant direct increase in complements, and also had the indirect effect of significantly boosting belief reasoning. TD and clinical groups followed the same patterns of performance. These results confirm previous findings for TD, and further suggest promising new directions for therapeutic programs addressing ToM delays in populations of different aetiologies, namely the incorporation of a motivating training on complementation.

Keywords: Autism Spectrum Disoder, developmental language disorder (DLD), theory of mind (ToM), Sentential complements, training program

Received: 02 May 2019; Accepted: 21 Oct 2019.

Copyright: © 2019 Durrleman, Burnel, De Villiers, Thommen and Delage. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Mx. Stephanie Durrleman, Université de Genève, Geneva, Switzerland, stephanie.durrleman@unige.ch