Person Perception in Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Autism has increased 700 per cent in the last decade. The developmental disorder is characterized by severe difficulties with social interaction and communication, an extremely limited range of activities and interests, and often by the presence of repetitive behaviors. A recent study showed autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are the most costly of all childhood disorders in terms of prevalence, outcome, response to treatment, economic cost and family stress. The ability to recognize and understand the constantly-fluctuating emotional expressions of the human face and their associated mental states usually develops in the first year of life. Research has shown that these abilities are seriously impaired in individuals with autism. The causes of this impairment are not yet understood, and although researchers have put forward a variety of explanations, there has been no definitive answer. Based on her past research, Lisa Jefferies is implementing a new approach to the study of person perception in individuals with low to severe autism spectrum disorder and a milder variant known as Asperger’s Syndrome. Jefferies’ approach is based on computer-generated, human-like “”talking heads”” that allow each component of an expression to be controlled and manipulated independently. She aims to use this tool to understand the root of face-perception deficits in children with autism. Jefferies also believes the talking heads will provide an ideal format for an intervention technique, as they could be programmed to focus on critical combinations of facial actions. Her ultimate goal is to develop new knowledge that will contribute to the design of more effective intervention and training to improve the social intelligence of individuals diagnosed with ASD.