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The Development of Facial Gender Categorization in Individuals With and Without Autism: the Impact of Typicality

Study: 
Strauss MS, Newell LC, Best CA, Hannigen SF, Gastgeb HZ, Giovannelli JL

While much research has examined the development of facial recognition abilities, less is known about the ability of individuals with and without autism to categorize facial gender. The current study tested gender categorization abilities in high-functioning children (5-7 and 8-12 years), adolescents (13-17 years), and adults (18-53 years) with autism and matched controls. Naturalistic videos depicted faces that were either typical or less typical of each gender. Both groups improved in their performance across development. However, control children reached expertise that was similar to control adults by 8-12 years; whereas, adults with autism never reached this level of expertise, particularly with less typical gender faces. Results suggest that individuals with autism employ different face processing mechanisms than typically developing individuals.