Perspective-taking, a complex skill involving behaviours necessary for successful social interactions, is deficient in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Perspective-taking entails the ability to infer others’ mental states (thoughts, beliefs, desires, intentions) and then use this knowledge to interpret what they articulate and do, and predict their subsequent behaviour (Peters and Thompson, 2018). Some examples of social skills requiring perspective taking include deception, sarcasm, persuasion and helping.
The ability to tact (label) what others can see is relevant to everyday social interactions involving perspective-taking. For example, when playing hide-and-seek, one must tact what the seeker can see in order to choose a good hiding location. Past research has developed ways to teach this to children with ASD. Among these, a table-top training procedure requiring participants to identify the correct object a person in a picture sees was developed (Gould et al., 2011; Hahs, 2015). Using principles of ABA such as multiple exemplar training (using multiple examples when training) and most-to-least prompting hierarchy, all participants were successful in learning this skill and were able to generalise to untrained pictures.
More recently, Welsh et al. (2019) extended previous research and developed a procedure for teaching children with ASD to tact others’ mental states via all five senses, which all contribute to perspective-taking. This study was conducted in the natural environment to enhance generalisation. For example, when asked “What does (name) see?”, the participant has to correctly respond with “the TV” within five seconds of being asked. With ABA strategies like multiple exemplar training, error correction and reinforcement incorporated, this intervention was found to be effective for teaching three children with ASD.
Other complex social skills requiring perspective-taking such as telling “white lies” have also been taught to children with ASD. In a 2016 study published in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, participants took part in two role-play scenarios: receiving an undesired gift and being asked about someone else’s appearance (Bergstrom et al., 2016). The children were required to lie that they liked the gift or appearance, and sincerity of tone and facial expression were recorded. Results from this intervention proved effective in teaching children with ASD to tell socially-appropriate lies.
Furthermore, Ranick et al. (2013) successfully taught children with ASD to detect lies that are intended to exclude them from activities or take their items. In the training sessions, children engaged in play sessions and were told deceptive comments such as “Your mom said I could have this” or “You have to be six or older to play”. The children had to respond correctly by providing contrary evidence or questioning those deceptive comments. Participants were able to generalise the skills learnt to new, untrained lies and peers. Skill maintenance was also achieved a month after.
These recent studies have thus demonstrated the effectiveness of ABA therapy for training complex social skills involving perspective-taking. Lying is one important skill that infiltrates our everyday social interactions. Unfortunately, due to deficits in social skills, individuals with ASD are susceptible to higher rates of bullying as compared to typical peers (Sterzing et al., 2012), which can even result in increased levels of stereotypic or self-injurious behaviours (Cappadocia, Weiss, & Pepler, 2012). Hence, such interventions are especially important for teaching children with ASD to navigate their social worlds better.
Bergstrom, R., Najdowski, A. C., Alvarado, M., & Tarbox, J. (2016). Teaching children with autism to tell socially appropriate lies. Journal of applied behavior analysis, 49(2), 405-410.
Cappadocia, M. C., Weiss, J. A., & Pepler, D. (2012). Bullying experiences among children and youth with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 42(2), 266-277.
Gould, E., Tarbox, J., O’Hora, D., Noone, S., & Bergstrom, R. (2011). Teaching children with autism a basic component skill of perspective‐taking. Behavioral Interventions, 26(1), 50-66.
Hahs, A. D. (2015). Teaching prerequisite perspective-taking skills to children with autism. International Journal of Psychology and Behavioral Sciences, 5(3), 115-120.
LeBlanc, L. A., Coates, A. M., Daneshvar, S., Charlop‐Christy, M. H., Morris, C., & Lancaster, B. M. (2003). Using video modeling and reinforcement to teach perspective‐taking skills to children with autism. Journal of applied behavior analysis, 36(2), 253-257.
Peters, L. C., & Thompson, R. H. (2018). How Teaching Perspective Taking to Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders Affects Social Skills: Findings from Research and Suggestions for Practitioners. Behavior analysis in practice, 11(4), 467-478.
Ranick, J., Persicke, A., Tarbox, J., & Kornack, J. A. (2013). Teaching children with autism to detect and respond to deceptive statements. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 7(4), 503-508.
Sterzing, P. R., Shattuck, P. T., Narendorf, S. C., Wagner, M., & Cooper, B. P. (2012). Bullying involvement and autism spectrum disorders: prevalence and correlates of bullying involvement among adolescents with an autism spectrum disorder. Archives of pediatrics & adolescent medicine, 166(11), 1058-1064.
Welsh, F., Najdowski, A. C., Strauss, D., Gallegos, L., & Fullen, J. A. (2019). Teaching a perspective‐taking component skill to children with autism in the natural environment. Journal of applied behavior analysis, 52(2), 439-450.