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An RIT/NTID Center of Excellence for Students Who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing

Theory of Mind: How Mothers Talk to Deaf and Hearing Children of Different Ages

Deaf children frequently have been reported to lag behind hearing peers in their development of theory of mind (i.e., recognition that others have thoughts, desires, and emotions). Children of deaf mothers, however, typically do not show such lags, and deaf children who have access to effective communication through their mothers' use of sign language generally show smaller lags than children whose hearing mothers depend solely on spoken language. One hypothesis to explain this situation relates to the extent to which mothers' "mental talk" implicitly teaches children about mental states. In collaboration with Dr. Kimberly Peters (University of Washington), this study is exploring how deaf mothers, hearing mothers, and bilingual (CODA) mothers talk to deaf and hearing children and the extent of their use of "mental talk" to children of different ages.