Autistic kids find it difficult to read facial expressions

Washington D.C. [USA], Mar. 31 (ANI): Children with autism have difficulty judging facial expressions, according to a recent study.

A team from Bristol's School of Experimental Psychology aimed to find out whether six basic facial expressions differing in intensity are challenging for young people with autism to recognise.

Researchers gave 63 children and adolescents with an ASC diagnosis and 64 without a diagnosis, an internet-based test of emotion recognition. The two groups, aged between 6 - 16 years-old, were presented with 'happy', 'sad', 'surprised', 'disgusted', 'scared' and 'angry' facial expressions and asked to select a label that matched the expression.

Some faces had exaggerated 'high-intensity' expressions, which were easier to identify, while others had subtle 'low-intensity' expressions, which were more difficult but considered more relevant to real world interactions. The team also measured language skills and non-verbal reasoning skills in order to see if differences in these skills explained any differences in ability to recognise emotions.

Results from this study found that young people with ASC do find it harder to recognise emotion from facial expressions. However, the types of mistake made by young people with ASC were very similar to the types of mistake made by young people without ASC. For example, young people in both groups often mistook 'fear' for 'surprise' and confused 'disgust' and 'anger'.

Interestingly, the biggest differences between the ASC and non-ASC groups were for the clearest 'high-intensity' expressions. The researchers think this was due to participants, including those without ASD, struggling to recognise the emotion in the 'low-intensity' expressions, making it hard for them to then see any clear difference between groups.

Researcher Sarah Griffiths said: "This study is important as previous research provided very mixed results with some finding individuals with autism less accurate in recognising expressions on average, and others finding no difference. In this study we used an online platform to run a larger study to answer this question more conclusively and found that individuals with autism are on average a bit less accurate at recognising emotion from faces."

The study appears in Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. (ANI)