Facial expressions of emotion among children with Asperger's and other high-functioning autism spectrum disorders and typically developing peers
Smith, Donna Alicia
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Asperger's disorder (AD) is a pervasive, life-long condition characterized by social dysfunction. Deficits are seen in the ability to initiate and sustain reciprocal social interactions, which has been related to inappropriate use or lack of understanding of nonverbal communication. Facial expression has been described as the most important type of nonverbal communication. There have been few studies, however, related to difficulties with the use of facial expression in persons with AD despite clinical accounts suggesting problems with encoding of facial expression. The present study looked at children's ability to encode six basic emotions: happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, and disgust. First, comparisons were made between 42 children with AD and 42 typically developing children matched on age, gender, and ethnicity. Results show that children with AD were significant less able to accurately encode the emotion of sadness than typical peers. Additionally, the expressions of children with AD appeared significantly more ''odd.'' The second part of the study examined the effects of a social skills intervention for children with AD, Connections, on the ability to encode facial expression of emotion. The facial expressions of 54 children with AD were judged pre- and post-intervention. A significant improvement was noted in the children's accuracy in encoding the emotion of sadness. Last, implications and limitations of the study, as well as directions for future research, are discussed.