Cognitive Underpinnings of Symbolic Pretend Play and Impossible Entity Drawings: Imaginative Ability in Typical Development and Autism Spectrum Disorder
The individual differences in imagination ability in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) were tested in a sample of 14 children with ASD and 14 matched typically developing (TD) children. Analysis was conducted on the extent of imagination in symbolic pretend play and impossible entity drawings. Aside from difficulties with imagination, children with ASD showed significant group deficits in executive function (generativity, visuospatial planning and cognitive flexibility) and false belief theory of mind understanding. Amongst children with ASD, executive function abilities (generativity and visuospatial planning) related to imaginative play and drawings. In contrast, amongst participants in the TD group, a mixture of both executive function (cognitive flexibility) and false belief theory of mind understanding predicted imaginative ability. These results are discussed in terms of how executive control plays a broad and important role in imaginative ability across groups, but the contributions appear to be expressed and routed differently in ASD. The discussion also highlights the theoretical implications of not having theory of mind that underpin imagination in ASD.