Autistic children’s explanations of their own behavior

Evidence of other-attentiveness


  • Gates Eleanor Henderson Victoria University of Wellington



Autism, Conversation Analysis, Accountability, Parent-child Talk, Discursive Psychology


Purpose: This article reconceptualizes theory of mind (ToM) and perspective-taking as a practical accomplishment in social interaction, and analyzes how, and when, autistic children produce explanations of their behavior in ways that address how other people do, or may, understand it.

Method: Three families with autistic children collected video recordings of themselves interacting at home. From 5 hours of video, a collection of 45 instances of accounts produced by autistic children was made, transcribed, and subjected to conversation analysis.

Results: Accounts occurred in both initiating and responsive turns. Accounts produced in initiating turns addressed the potential characterizations of this and themselves their interlocutors might make. Their accounts in second position addressed actual characterizations in interlocutors’ preceding turns. As well, two of the children produced accounts which constructed their behavior as the result of internal causes.

Discussion and conclusion: These analyses demonstrate the children’s practical reasoning about how other people observe, recognize, and understand their behavior. Despite autism being linked to difficulties with ToM and perspective-taking, these autistic children manage perspective-taking through the provision of accounts in multiple sequential positions. These findings challenge the emphasis on ToM deficit based explanations of autism, while suggesting a stronger research focus on local, situated perspective-taking in social interaction.

Author Biography

Gates Eleanor Henderson, Victoria University of Wellington

Gates Henderson is a PhD student in the School of Psychology at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. In her PhD work, she uses conversation analysis to study the social interaction between parents and their autistic children. Her interests lie in morality/accountability, identity, gender and sexuality, and atypical talk.


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How to Cite

Henderson, G. E. . (2021). Autistic children’s explanations of their own behavior: Evidence of other-attentiveness. Journal of Interactional Research in Communication Disorders, 10(2), 99–124.