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Differences in Theory of Mind and Pretend Play Associations in Children with and Without Specific Language Impairment

Children with specific language impairment (SLI) have difficulty engaging in social pretend play, which cannot be explained exclusively by their deficient language skills. Alternatively, the ability to represent mental states (Theory of Mind [ToM]) might be important in appreciating peers’ perspectives during pretend play. This study investigated whether ToM was associated with pretend play abilities in children with and without SLI. Forty-four children (22 with SLI, 22 with typical development [TD]) between 4 and 6 years of age participated in ToM tasks and a dyadic role play activity. Children with SLI performed significantly more poorly on ToM tasks than children with TD; however, there were no significant group differences in children’s role play abilities. Partial correlations revealed a positive and significant association between ToM and social pretend play in children with TD but a negative and not significant association in children with SLI. These findings suggest that not all forms and aspects of pretend play require mental representation in order to understand or engage in pretend play. Further, children with SLI may differ in their mental representational abilities from children with TD. Copyright © 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.