One of the hallmark symptoms of autism spectrum disorder is an inability to read other person’s facial expressions and link them to their emotional state.
Not only does this disabled understanding of the face diminish emotive recognition, but it also contributes to an overall lack of attention to the face during conversation. Such a lack means that persons with ASD are not well practiced in communicating in noisy environments, where lip-reading pays an enormous contribution to conversation. Indeed, researchers have discovered that persons with ASD barely use other people’s faces as a point of context in identifying both emotions and linguistic elements; as a result, large parts of communication are lost on them.
At Southern Connecticut State University, researchers have been working with autistic adolescents on this skill in their program “Listening to Faces” which is aimed at improving conversational skills. Working with these adolescents, they have discovered a disconnect between participants’ understanding of communication and the face. In studying this discrepancy, researchers hope to improve early therapy that could significantly increase the quality of relationships for young children with ASD.
With the use of brain imaging technology, Professor Julia Irwin, who runs the program, hopes that she and her students may be able to better identify the neurocognitive components underlying this behavior. For the time being, however, she is just grateful to be able to offer further insight and therapy into this phenomenon. Parent Diane Vergara shares her gratitude that her son “definitely made an improvement even though it was a short period of time” with this therapy program, and lauds their attempt to identify the right tools in increasing productivity.
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Written by Sara Power, Fordham University