Facial Expression Recognition Worsens with Age in Autism

autismRecognizing emotional facial expressions is an ability that is already impaired in many who suffer from autism, and new research from Georgetown University has found that this tends to worsen over time.[1]

“Our findings suggest that while neurodevelopmental processes and social experience produce improvements in facial emotion recognition abilities for children without autism, autistic children experience disruptions in these processes, ” said Dr. Abigail Marsh, associate professor of psychology in Georgetown College.1

The researchers found consistent facial-emotion recognition deficits—particularly with anger, fear, and surprise—by analyzing data from more than 40 previous studies of facial-emotion recognition deficits in children and adults with autism.1

“A major take-home message of this research is that impairments in recognizing emotional facial expressions get worse over time,” said researcher Leah Lozier.1

According to Marsh, there has been an ongoing discussion among researchers on whether or not facial expression recognition impairment even exists.1

“It’s surprising how little consensus there has been on autism and its effects on facial expression recognition because difficulties in nonverbal communication are a big part of an autism diagnosis,” said Marsh.1

Because these difficulties become worse later in life, adults with autism could have even more problems in social settings due to their inability to read nonverbal cues.1 The researchers believe their findings are important in helping to develop treatments for people with autism long before they become adults.1

“Autistic adults have even more trouble recognizing facial expressions than autistic children do,” said Marsh. “Given how important facial expressions are for regulating social interactions, this reinforces the importance of early interventions that may help prevent this gap from widening during development.”1

It is estimated that about one in 68 children has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) according to the latest findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.1

“There is a snowballing effect which underscored how important it is to develop targeted treatments and interventions for very young children in order to mitigate the developmental consequences before more sever impairments in affect recognition have set it,” said Lozier.1

[1] Pedersen, T. (2014). In Autism, Facial Expression Recognition Tends to Worsen with Age. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 24, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2014/06/21/in-autism-facial-expression-recognition-tends-to-worsen-with-age/71504.html

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