Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 29, Issue 6, pp 499-508

First online:

A Normed Study of Face Recognition in Autism and Related Disorders

  • Ami KlinAffiliated withYale Child Study Center Email author 
  • , Sara S. SparrowAffiliated withYale Child Study Center
  • , Annelies de BildtAffiliated withYale Child Study Center
  • , Domenic V. CicchettiAffiliated withYale Child Study Center
  • , Donald J. CohenAffiliated withYale Child Study Center
  • , Fred R. VolkmarAffiliated withYale Child Study Center

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Although the interpretation of studies of face recognition in older children, adolescents, and adults with autism is complicated by the fact that participating samples and adopted methodologies vary significantly, there is nevertheless strong evidence indicating processing peculiarities even when task performance is not deficient. Much less is known about face recognition abilities in younger children with autism. This study employed a well-normed task of face recognition to measure this ability in 102 young children with autism, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDDNOS), and non-PDD disorders (mental retardation and language disorders) matched on chronological age and nonverbal mental age, and in a subsample of 51 children divided equally in the same three groups matched on chronological age and verbal mental age. There were pronounced deficits of face recognition in the autistic group relative to the other nonverbally matched and verbally matched groups. Performance on two comparison tasks did not reveal significant differences when verbal ability was adequately controlled. We concluded that young children with autism have face recognition deficits that cannot be attributed to overall cognitive abilities or task demands. In contrast to controls, there was a lower correlation between performance on face recognition and nonverbal intelligence, suggesting that in autism face recognition is less correlated with general cognitive capacity. Contrary to our expectation, children with PDDNOS did not show face recognition deficits.

Autism PDD face perception