Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Interprofessional Health Sciences

First Advisor

Tiffany L. Hutchins


Episodic memory (EM) is memory for past personal experiences; it is foundational to the development of imagination, introspection, future thinking, and social problem-solving and it shapes one’s self-concept, identity, and life story. EM and theory of mind (ToM) are developmentally intertwined and functionally dependent, and impairments in each are well-documented in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Despite tremendous empirical and theoretical import for the construal of EM as a core deficit in the social challenges in ASD, no formal interventions have been developed to support EM in this population. Meanwhile, an impressive body of literature has documented that one particular caregiver interaction style (i.e., elaborative reminiscing) causally and positively impacts typically developing children’s EM and socio-cultural learning. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effectiveness of a new caregiver-mediated EM intervention that adapts the principles of elaborative reminiscing in ways that align with best practices for supporting social cognition in children with ASD. Participants in this study were 27 caregiver-child dyads; all children had a diagnosis of ASD and were between the ages of 6-15 years. The following hypotheses were evaluated: 1) caregivers will demonstrate improvements in elaborative reminiscing from pre- to post-intervention, and 2) children will demonstrate improvements in EM (i.e., more EMs and EM functions and more accurate and specific EMs), personal narrative discourse, and ToM skills from pre- to post-intervention. We found that caregivers demonstrate increased elaborativeness at post-intervention, including the use of more mental state terms. We also found that children demonstrate improvements in EM specificity and basic theory of mind understanding at post-intervention. These results suggest that caregivers of children with ASD can be trained to be use highly elaborative interaction styles, and that elaborative reminiscing is associated with the development of EM and ToM in children with ASD across a wide range of ages. Clinical applications include providing clinicians with tools to train families to use this new intervention technique with their children with ASD. Additionally, future research should examine the effects of elaborative reminiscing on individuals with other clinical conditions in which EM deficits are present.



Number of Pages

195 p.

Available for download on Friday, June 30, 2023

Included in

Communication Commons