New study suggests brains of autistic children can be trained to recognize faces

SEATTLE, WA--Individuals with autism have been shown to have a difficult time recognizing faces, but two University of Washington researchers now suggest that the problem may be due to a lack of practice, rather than to abnormal functioning of the affected region of the brain.

Previous research, using an electroencephalogram (EEG) to measure brain activity, had shown that autistic 3- and 4-year-olds failed to show normal brain response when viewing their mother's picture. However, a recent study released at the AAAS (Triple-A-S) Annual Meeting indicates that with time, a mother's image does activate the part of the temporal lobe implicated in face recognition, even when an unfamiliar face does not. AAAS is the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

"These results suggest that lack of normal activation of the fusiform gyrus in persons with autism may be due to their lack of familiarity and experience with faces rather than an inherent problem with the fusiform," said Geraldine Dawson, who directs the University of Washington Autism Center and who was among the first researchers to suggest that an impairment in face recognition might be one of the earliest signs of autism.

The researchers are seeking to understand the nature of brain dysfunction in autism, focusing specifically on brain regions involved in face processing. The MRIs allow them to examine patterns of brain activity while the subjects process information from faces. The project also examines whether interventions can be used to effectively train dysfunctional brain regions to better process information from the face.

The current study compared activation of the fusiform gyrus (the face area) and inferior temporal gyrus (a part of the brain that recognizes objects not faces) in 11 high-functioning adolescents and adults with autism and 10 matched controls, recording the way the brains of each individual responded when viewing faces and when viewing cars. '"/>

Contact: Monica Amarelo
American Association for the Advancement of Science

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