- Study suggests it is not the judgement process itself that is different in people with autism, but the way they gather clues in the first place
- It explains why people with autism have difficulty reading expressions
- Finding may improve understanding of people diagnosed with autism
- Scientists now want to find out how faces appear to people with autism
People with autism see faces differently to their peers – a finding which may explain why they sometimes have difficulty judging facial expressions.
Symptoms of this complex condition vary from person to person but they can revolve around difficulty with social interaction and communication.
The latest discovery could improve understanding of people diagnosed with autism, helping family members, friends and healthcare workers better communicate with them.
People with autism see faces differently to their peers – a finding which may explain why they sometimes have difficulty judging facial expressions (stock image used)
Canadian researchers recruited 71 people, 33 people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and 33 people without the disorder.
The participants were presented 36 pairs of photographic and computer images of emotionally neutral faces.
They were asked to indicate which faces appear ‘kind’ to them.
With the photographic images of neutral faces were presented, the judgement of the participants with ASD were mixed compared to the participants without the disorder.
But the two groups made identical judgments about the computer images of neutral faces.
When the computer image pairs contained less useful judgment clues – such as less pronounced facial features – both groups have difficulty judging the face.
The identical results suggest it is not the judgement process itself that is different in people with ASD, but the way they gather clues in the first place.
PEOPLE WITH AUTISM HAVE TOO MANY BRAIN CONNECTIONS, STUDY FINDS
People with autism have too many synapses in their brains, according to a recent study
Scientists say they have discovered the reason why some people suffer from autism.
Those with the condition have too many synapses in their brains – places where where neurons connect and communicate, a new study has found.
Scientists at Columbia University in New York believe that the surplus synapses are created because of a lack of ‘pruning’ that normally occurs early in life.
The discovery is a huge leap in understanding of the complex condition and creates hope of a possible treatment, researchers said.
In mice with autistic traits, scientists were able to restore the synaptic pruning and reduce symptoms.
Using a drug usually used to suppress the immune systems of transplant patients, the found the autistic-like behaviours were reduced.
The drug, rapamycin, has side effects that make it unsuitable as an autism treatment.
But the discovery opens up possibilities for other therapies which can reduce the number of synapses, according to the study published in the journal Neuron.
Professor Jeffrey Lieberman, chair of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, where the research took place, said: ‘This is an important finding that could lead to a novel and much-needed therapeutic strategy for autism.’
‘The evaluation of an individual’s face is a rapid process that influences our future relationship with the individual,’ said the study’s lead author Baudouin Forgeot d’Arc, of the University of Montreal.
‘By studying these judgments, we wanted to better understand how people with ASD use facial features as cues. Do they need more cues to be able to make the same judgment?’
He added: ‘We now want to understand how the gathering of cues underpinning these judgments is different between people with or without ASD depending on whether they are viewing synthetic or photographic images.
‘Ultimately, a better understanding of how people with ASD perceive and evaluate the social environment will allow us to better interact with them.’
The research comes amid concern about rising rates of autism.
More than one in 100 British children has autism or a related condition such as Asperger’s Syndrome – a 10-fold increase on 30 years ago.
In the US, one in 68 children has an autism spectrum disorder, a 30 per cent increase from one in 88 two years ago.
More than one in 100 British children has autism or a related condition such as Asperger’s Syndrome – a 10-fold increase on 30 years ago (stock image used)