Teaching Children with Autism to Recognize Faces
Faces have immense importance for social interactions. Faces convey information about our intentions, our identity, and our emotional state. Although most people recognize faces effortlessly with little or no forethought, children and adults with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) struggle with their face recognition skills. Studies have shown that unlike typically developed children, children with ASD do not readily orient and attend to faces in the environment. Even when they are attending to a face, children with ASD tend not to look at the eyes and are more likely to miss information about the identity and emotional state of a person. In addition, children with ASD tend to analyze a face in terms of its individual parts (e.g., eyes, nose, mouth) rather than integrating the individual features into a holistic face memory. If children with autism lack basic skills in face processing, it is not surprising that they would experience difficulty in everyday interactions that depend heavily on the perceptual understanding of facial cues. Recently, computer-based methods, such as the Face Expertise Training and Let’s Face It! (LFI!) program, have been developed to improve the face processing skills of children with ASD. These programs assume that the perceptual skills involved in face recognition can be acquired and improved through systematic training. Results from these programs have been proven effective in teaching children with ASD how to recognize facial identity. Moreover, the development of new technologies, such as touch screen tablets and virtual reality systems, is promising for improving the face processing of children with ASD.
- American Psychiatric Association (APA). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, 4th edition, text revision (DSM-IVTR). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing; 2002.Google Scholar
- Dawson G, Webb SJ, Wijsman E, Schellenberg G, Estes A, Munson J, et al. Neurocognitive and electrophysiological evidence of altered face processing in parents of children with autism: implications for a model of abnormal development of social brain circuitry in autism. Dev Psychopathol. 2005;17(3):679–97.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Sterling L, Dawson G, Webb S, Murias M, Munson J, Panagiotides H, et al. The role of face familiarity in eye tracking of faces by individuals with autism spectrum disorders. J Autism Dev Disord. 2008;38:166–1675.Google Scholar
- Swettenham J, Baron-Cohen S, Charman T, Cox A, Baird G, Drew A, et al. The frequency and distribution of spontaneous attention shifts between social and non social stimuli in autistic, typically developing, and nonautistic developmentally delayed infants. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 1998;39:747–53.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Tanaka JW, Lincoln S, Hegg L. A framework for the study and treatment of face processing deficits in autism. In: Leder H, Swartzer G, editors. The development of face processing. Berlin: Hogrefe; 2003. p. 101–19.Google Scholar
- Wolf JM, Tanaka JW, Klaiman C, Cockburn J, Herlihy L, Brown C, South M, McPartland J, Kaiser MD, Phillips R, Schultz RT. Specific impairment of face-processing abilities in children with autism spectrum disorder using the let’s face It! skills battery. Autism Res. 2008;1:329–40.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar