Theory of Mind Training and Autism Ranking: Limited positive evidence

Adolescent boy smiling

Theory of mind training includes any form of instruction which is designed to teach people how to recognise mental states (such as thoughts, beliefs and emotions) in themselves and in other people.

Theory of mind training is based on the idea that some people have a poor theory of mind, that is, they struggle to recognise mental states in themselves and in other people.  Because of this they may find it difficult to make sense of and predict actions. For example, they may not be able to recognise that they are getting angry or that someone else is sad.

There are a variety of programmes which are specifically designed to teach theory of mind. For example, the Thought Bubble Training programme teaches children to visualise other people’s thoughts and emotions by imagining those thoughts and emotions as pictures or thought bubbles.  

There are also a number of programmes which are designed to teach the precursor skills of theory of mind (such as joint attention and imitation). However, this factsheet concentrates just on those programmes which are specifically designed to teach theory of mind.

Our Opinion

It may be possible to teach theory of mind skills to some autistic people using a theory of mind training programme.

However, those skills rarely or never transfer to situations outside the situation in which the training took place. It is unclear whether any skills that have been learnt can be maintained and improved on in the long term.

Because of this, researchers might wish to study other interventions (such as comprehensive, multi-component approaches) which target a range of skills designed to improve social and communication skills in autistic individuals 

It is worth noting that some autistic people have criticised the idea that it is only autistic people who have problems understanding how other people think.  Many autistic people believe that non-autistic people have just as many problems trying to understand autistic people.


Please read our Disclaimer on Autism Interventions

17 Jun 2022
Last Review
01 Mar 2016
Next Review
01 Oct 2022