Many studies have shown that children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have some understanding of intentions behind other’s goal-directed actions on objects. It is not clear whether they understand intentions at a higher level of abstraction reliant on the context in which the actions occur. The current study tested their understanding of others’ prior intentions with typically-developing (TD) and developmentally-delayed (DD) children. We replicated Carpenter et al.’s (2002) test of the ability to understand prior intentions embedded in the social situation with an additional context of no prior intention. Results showed that when the experimenter’s intention was made known before the demonstration, children without ASD performed not only better than the ASD children, but also better than themselves when there was no information about prior intention. No between-condition difference was found in the ASD group. It thus appears that children with ASD have difficulty decoupling intentions from the context of the situation. The present findings, together with previous evidence for the intactness of the ability to understand and to imitate goaldirected actions, suggest that asymmetrical imitation performance occurs at different levels of understanding of intention by children with ASD.
Autism: International Journal of Research and Practice,