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Disordered recognition of facial identity and emotions in three Asperger type autists

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In this report we aim to explore severe deficits in facial affect recognition in three boys all of whom meet the criteria of Asperger's syndrome (AS), as well as overt prosopagnosia in one (B) and covert prosopagnosia in the remaining two (C and D). Subject B, with a familially-based talent of being highly gifted in physics and mathematics, showed no interest in people, a quasi complete lack of comprehension of emotions, and very poor emotional reactivity. The marked neuropsychological deficits were a moderate prosopagnosia and severely disordered recognition of facial emotions, gender and age. Expressive facial emotion, whole body psychomotor expression and speech prosody were quasi absent as well. In all three boys these facial processing deficits were more or less isolated, and general visuospatial functions, attention, formal language and scholastic performances were normal or even highly developed with the exception of deficient gestalt perception in B. We consider the deficient facial emotion perception as an important pathogenetic symptom for the autistic behaviour in the three boys. Prosopagnosia, the absent facial and bodily expression, and speech prosody were important but varying co-morbid disorders. The total clinical picture of non-verbal disordered communication is a complex of predominantly bilateral and/or right hemisphere cortical deficits. Moreover, in B, insensitivity to pain, smells, noises and internal bodily feelings suggested a more general emotional anaesthesia and/or a deficient means of expression. It is possible that a limbic component might be involved, thus making affective appreciation also deficient.

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Accepted: 18 January 2000

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Njiokiktjien, C., Verschoor, A., de Sonneville, L. et al. Disordered recognition of facial identity and emotions in three Asperger type autists. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry 10, 79–90 (2001).

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