Background: While a meta-analysis has shown that false belief (FB) understanding of typically developing (TD) children in Hong Kong (HK)
develops much later than that of children in mainland China (Liu et al., 2008), whether the former also acquire other theory-of-mind (ToM) skills
later than the latter remains unclear. Moreover, no study has compared ToM skills of HK autistic children with those of mainland Chinese autistic
children. Wellman and Liu (2004) have devised a ToM scale to investigate the developmental sequence of five ToM skills: diverse desires (DD),
knowledge access (KA), diverse beliefs (DB), contents FB (CFB), and hidden emotion (HE). Given Liu et al.’s finding, we hypothesize that both
autistic and TD children in HK will perform worse than their mainland China counterparts in CFB. Furthermore, given Zhang et al.’s (2016) finding
that the developmental sequence of the five ToM skills in mainland Chinese autistic children deviated from that in TD children, we hypothesize that
the same will be observed in HK autistic and TD children.
Objectives: To examine HK autistic and TD children’s performance on Wellman and Liu’s (2004) ToM scale, and to compare the results with those
from mainland Chinese autistic and TD children reported by Zhang et al.
Methods: 47 ASD (M = 6.16; range: 3.5–9.58) and 93 TD children in HK (M = 5.10; range: 3.33–6.83) participated. They were matched with
Zhang et al.’s autistic and TD groups on age. To compare the developmental sequence of ToM between HK autistic and TD children, another TD
group (N = 137; M = 5.61) matched with ASD group on language ability was formed. The tasks used by Zhang et al. (translated into Cantonese)
assessed understanding of the five ToM skills.
Results: Among the five ToM tasks, chi-square analyses showed that HK TD children’s passing rates were significantly lower than mainland
Chinese TD children on KA and HE (see Table 1). In contrast, HK autistic children significantly outperformed mainland Chinese autistic children
on KA, DB, and CFB (see Table 1). Like Zhang et al., we found that HK autistic children’s developmental sequence of the five ToM skills (i.e., KA
< DD < DB < CFB < HE) deviated from that of HK TD children (i.e., DD < KA < DB < CFB < HE) (see Table 2). Moreover, the developmental
sequence of the five ToM skills in HK autistic children differed from that of mainland Chinese autistic children, which was DD < DB < KA < CFB
< HE (see Table 2).
Conclusions: This study partially confirmed our hypothesis: the developmental sequence of the five ToM skills in HK autistic children deviated
from that of HK TD children. However, contrary to our hypothesis, neither TD nor autistic children in HK performed worse than their mainland
Chinese counterparts on CFB. Our finding that the developmental sequence of the five ToM skills in HK autistic children differed from that of
mainland Chinese autistic children supports the idea that the developmental sequence of ToM is subject to cross-cultural/regional variations.