Understanding the Relationship Between Theory of Mind and Anxiety in Autistic and Typically Developing Children
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Anxiety disorder can be especially difficult to deal with for children and adolescents. Previous literature has indicated a relationship between anxiety and theory of mind ability. Theory of mind (ToM) is the ability to understand the beliefs, emotions, and intentions of another person and acknowledge that these mental states may differ from their own. Previously, individuals diagnosed with social anxiety disorder demonstrated lower ToM ability than their peers. However, these studies used a limited number of tasks and a sample of only typically developing (TD) adults. The relationship between anxiety and ToM is less understood when the presence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is considered. Understanding anxiety in children with ASD is important because they are diagnosed with anxiety disorder at a higher rate compared to their TD peers. To explore this relationship in both ASD and TD samples, data was collected using the Strange Stories Task and the Screening for Child Anxiety Related Disorders (SCARED) questionnaire for 44 participants ages 7-14 years old. 22 participants had an ASD diagnosis and 22 did not. Strange Stories assesses ability to accurately use ToM to answer questions about characters’ mental states in fictional stories. The SCARED questionnaire is completed by parents to evaluate how much anxiety is typically experienced by the child. From these data, the correlation between ToM accuracy and total anxiety score will be examined. Differences in ToM and anxiety scores between groups will also be investigated. The results could allow for better understanding of ToM and anxiety in children with and without autism.