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The Role of Visual Experience in Facial Expression Processing in Children with ASD

Los Angeles
State/Province Full: 
United States

People with autism spectrum disorders spend less time looking at faces than non-affected individuals, and when they do, they spend much more time focusing on the mouth than in the eyes. This is coupled by a reduction in activity in areas of the brain that are responsible for proper interpretation of facial features, including the fusiform gyrus. This could be caused by either an inability of the brain to process stimuli regarding facial expression, or because individuals with autism are not engaging images and averting their eyes from the face. To further elucidate this mechanism, this study will examine face processing when gaze is focused either on the eye or mouth region of a face and record activation of the fusiform gyrus using fMRI technology. The results will provide insight to the mechanism of face processing skills in individuals with autism and lead to a targeted intervention that addresses face processing skills. Significance: Given that face perception and expression processing are critical to enriching social experiences and drive our understanding of the motivations intentions of others, a deficit in face processing is a significant handicap for individuals with ASD. This study will provide further insight into the nature of face processing deficits, and generate knowledge that could better inform intervention.