The British Association of Teachers of the Deaf
Promoting Excellence in Deaf Education

Does telling a story require both good language skills and ‘theory of mind' ?

Amy Izycky, Newcastle University.

Research for: Doctorate in Clinical Psychology (D.Clin.Psy), September 2008 – September 2011

Research team includes Professor Helen McConachie and Dr Jacqui Rodgers.

Research Summary

The research consists of two parts, a Literature Review and an Empirical study.

Literature Review

Following Peterson & Siegal’s (2000) review it has been widely accepted and replicated that theory of mind in deaf children of hearing parents is delayed whereas theory of mind in Deaf children of Deaf parents develops at a similar age in comparison to typically developing hearing children. Since the year 2000, research has developed considerably in this area. More specifically work has been implemented into why deaf children of hearing parents may present as delayed in their theory of mind ability. One hypothesis is that these children present with a delayed theory of mind due to standard theory of mind tests being inaccessible. This review hopes to explore the most recent findings regarding when theory of mind presents as delayed in deaf children of hearing parents and whether or not this relates to the type of theory of mind test administered.

We would be very interested to hear from any researchers that have conducted research into the development of theory of mind in deaf children who have not yet published their findings.

Empirical Study

The study aims to explore how narrative skills and theory of mind may be related to symbolic reasoning, early communication environments and language systems in children.

Developing and maintaining relationships with others depends upon effective social communication. Much of children’s social communication with others involves telling stories. In order to tell a good story we expect that a child must have good language skills. We also expect that a child must have a theory of mind and the capacity to reason symbolically. When a child has a theory of mind they have the ability to think about other people’s mental states and how they may differ from their own (Wellman, 1990). To reason symbolically a child must have the ability to realise that one thing may represent another.

To date, research into the nature of the relationship between narrative skills and theory of mind is inconclusive and the contribution of symbolic reasoning to this relationship has not yet been explored. Hearing and deaf children experience very different developmental scenarios that are likely to impact upon their development of the skills identified. We are currently administering language, non-verbal IQ, Theory of Mind, narrative and symbolic reasoning assessments to both hearing and deaf children to explore how these skills are related to each other and to different developmental and language environments.

For further information contact Amy Izycky

November 2010