Theory of Mind and Cognition

tom and cognition

My metacognitive skills have been getting quite a work out lately. Thinking about thinking is exhausting, but it’s one of the many things I find amazing about our brains!  These past few weeks have been full of opportunities to talk about Theory of Mind with a variety of my favorite SLPs. If you haven’t downloaded this FREE ToM assessment, click HERE (you’ll thank me later)!   We have been chatting about how our kids with language impairments, ASD, mild cognitive impairments and Down Syndrome perceive sarcasm, tone of voice, perspective taking and Theory of Mind tasks differently.  I started googling to see what research is out there, particularly in regard to children with DS.

I came across a few articles (including THIS one) that speaks to beginning research on Theory of Mind in kids with mild cognitive impairments vs. children with Down Syndrome, functioning in the same cognitive range.  The preliminary findings suggest there is a difference in perception, and that while both groups have the desire for social engagement, children with DS have a more difficult time taking on another person’s perspective and switching their behavior because of it.

I see four very verbal boys with DS and feel that this may be a piece to some of the social behaviors they struggle with.  They understand that sometimes their choices are not making others happy, but have a hard time changing their behavior to affect others in a positive way.  They get stuck and often it’s written off as ‘stubbornness’ that people assume is part of DS, but I suspect there might be more to it than that.

I use a LOT of visuals and activities that center around emotions and problem solving strategies in our therapy sessions.  Giving language to feelings helps keep my boys from shutting down as often and gives them the tools to talk about what happened (after the event, not in the moment).  That’s the first step.  I then try to get them to connect other people’s feelings, what others might be thinking and how what we say/do can change that.  This is a BIG cognitive jump and isn’t going to happen in a few sessions, it’s an ongoing goal.  I try to follow a visual template when we talk through an event, like this one:

DS social language template

*If it’s too much visual information on one page for your student,  fold it in half or cut the steps apart to sequence one at a time.

I also printed out these cute clip art emotions I bought from Whimsy Clips to use when working on problem solving, emotion identification and Theory of Mind activities. You can find them HERE or use actual pictures of your students.  A visual representation of someone physically leaving a social scene can help our kids connect the idea that when everyone doesn’t have the same information, you may have an incorrect perception based on what you do know.  I cut out the people and glue them to upside down solo cups to make them moveable on a table, but you could put Velcro buttons and use a flannel board, magnetic tape to use on a white board or craft sticks to make a moveable puppet show.  As low tech as these are, you can use them in a million ways in therapy!

Do you work on ToM and social language with your students that are not on the autism spectrum?  Share your thoughts here.

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