The hypothesis that children with autism may have an impaired understanding of other people s intention (cf., Tomasello, 1999a) was investigated using a non-verbal method for assessing intention understanding. Fourteen children with autism (aged 27 to 89 months) participated individually in a task where a large number of toys were passed from the experimenter to the child across a table. However, on some occasions the child did not receive the toy because the
experimenter was either unwilling , trying but unable or distracted . The children reacted differently in the three conditions: showing more impatience in the unwilling conditions (e.g., more reaching, less waiting) than in the trying conditions, and more impatience in the unwilling condition (e.g., more reaching, less waiting) than in the distracted condition. Contrary to the hypothesis put forth by Tomasello, the reactions of the children with autism did not only seem to be a result of the consequences of the experimenter s behavior (i.e., not receiving the toy); the children reacted differentially and in accordance with the experimenter s apparent goal. This was also true for the children who had limited cognitive and language abilities. The results indicate that young children with autism have an ability to immediately and implicitly perceive and adapt to the purpose of other people s behavior, but it is argued that this may not necessarily involve an understanding of other people s mental states.