Role-taking and social connectedness in autism
The aim of this thesis was to examine aspects of conceptual and non-inferential role-taking that are intact or limited in individuals with autism. More specifically, this thesis examined the ability to adopt different psychological perspectives, based on the hypothesis that basic non-inferential role-taking processes, related to the way we identify with the attitudes and feelings of other people, are relatively lacking in individuals with autism. Such processes might be important for the understanding of different perspectives in other people. The series of studies presented in this thesis investigated role-taking in individuals with autism, relative to chronological and verbal mental age matched groups of participants without autism. The studies focused on three main areas of research: narrative role-taking, deictic understanding, and interpersonal non-verbal communication. In the first study, participants were asked to tell stories from the point of view of different characters. In the second study, a set of tasks examined production and comprehension of verbal and non-verbal deictic expressions. The third study examined the processes of interpersonal engagement and role-taking, by focusing on the nonverbal communication exchanged between two people in the context of a one-to-one interaction. The results from the studies provide evidence suggesting that individuals with autism show aspects of role-taking ability that are both limited and intact, which may be better explained by an impairment in interpersonal, and non-inferential role-taking, than by cognitive, and conceptual, limitations.