The social-cognitive development of children with severe learning difficulties
This thesis focuses upon the abilities of children with severe learning difficulties to contemplate the psychological states of other people, what is often referred to in the literature as 'mindreading' (Whiten and Perner, 1991). The first section contains a review of the literature on children's developing understanding of the mind and their conceptual representational abilities. This is followed by two studies investigating non-learning disabled children's abilities to attribute first-and second-order false belief. The first of these uses an adaptation of the Sally-Anne test (Baron-Cohen, et al., 1985). The second study uses an original false belief story scenario, which involves children in drama. The researcher uses a technique called 'split-briefing' to provide children with first-hand experience of first-and second-order false belief. Simplified versions of the two false belief story scenarios are then used with children with severe learning difficulties to investigate their abilities to represent first-and second-order false belief. The relationship between children's scores on belief attribution tasks and their scores on tests of non-verbal intellectual reasoning (Ravens Coloured Matrices) and receptive language ability (TROG) is also examined in this study. The third section outlines the findings of a questionnaire-based study examining parental reports of spontaneous internal state use by two groups of children: non-learning disabled children aged 1-5 years and pupils with Down's Syndrome aged 4-19 years with severe learning difficulties. 'Internal state language' is language which refers to intentions, cognitions and feeling states (Bretherton and Beeghly, 1981). This is followed by a further investigation of internal state language among a group of students with severe learning difficulties. This study uses a series of playlets written by the author to provide students with an interactive, participatory medium in which to draw their attention to people's internal states. The thesis concludes with a final statement on research into the social-cognitive development of children with severe learning difficulties, with recommendations for future research and intervention.