This study examined the relation between Theory of Mind (ToM) and reading comprehension in 42 7- to 9-year-old Hong Kong Chinese children with autism and 55 typically developing peers (TD) who were comparable in age, nonverbal intelligence, and working memory. Relative to their TD peers, children with autism exhibited difficulties with reading comprehension and advanced ToM tasks, but not word reading and basic ToM tasks. After controlling for nonverbal intelligence, working memory, word reading, and vocabulary knowledge, ToM partially mediated the relation between group status (autistic or not) and reading comprehension. This mediation was significant for non-literal comprehension skills (i.e., those involving inference, evaluation, and mentalization) but not for literal comprehension skills (i.e., those involving simple recall and recognition of textually explicit information). These findings indicate that ToM partially explains the differences in non-literal reading comprehension between children with autism and their TD peers.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by funding from the General Research Fund (17673216, 2016-2019), and General Research Fund (17609518, 2018-2020), from the Hong Kong Government Research Council to Xiuli Tong. We are deeply grateful to the children and their parents who participated in our study. We also would like to thank Dr. Tiffany L. Hutchins for giving us the permission to adopt the Theory of Mind Testing battery to a Hong Kong context. Additionally, we also thank David Tai Wai Kwok and Justine Wai for their assistance in the English translation of the Cantonese ToM test battery and Chinese reading comprehension task.
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