Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Douglas A. Frye


Current interventions to improve the social, academic, and behavioral skills in children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) all require teaching activities. A central component of being able to engage in and benefit from teaching activities is the ability to recognize and understand when and how teaching occurs. The emergence of an understanding of teaching as a means by which we acquire knowledge from others is a key feature of socio-cognitive development. However, it is not known whether children with ASD develop the ability to understand the fundamental concept of teaching. Understanding what children with ASD know about the concept of teaching is important in order to optimize interventions that incorporate teaching as a method of learning.

This dissertation examines the understanding of teaching in children with ASD compared to typically developing children. Specifically, we investigate the two defining features of an understanding of teaching: 1) that teaching requires a knowledge difference between teacher and learner, and 2) that teaching is an intentional activity. We use a cross-sectional design to assess whether the understanding of these two components is intact or impaired in high functioning children with ASD compared to typical children individually matched on verbal ability. This study also investigates the interrelations among the understanding of teaching, theory of mind acquisition, and concurrent understanding of intention in others in this population.

Our results indicate that the understanding of the two core components that underlie the concept of teaching is impaired in high functioning children with ASD, compared to matched controls. The role that intention and theory of mind play in the understanding of teaching in high functioning children with ASD is also discussed. This work has broad implications for improving teaching and teaching-based interventions for children with ASD