Background: Recent evidence has emerged that children and adolescents with autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) can successfully attribute mental states to facial expressions (e.g., Back, Ropar, & Mitchell, 2007). However, identifying that someone is giving you a disapproving look does not necessarily mean that an individual will adjust their behaviour accordingly, this may reveal more profound differences between people with and without ASD with respect to effective social interactions.
Objectives: To investigate whether children / adolescents with ASD can respond appropriately to dynamic facial depictions of mental states.
Methods: 14 participants with ASD and 14 matched typically developing participants (11- 14 year olds) took part. A paradigm was developed that had been previously validated with over 60 adults and children. 16 dynamic facial expressions were presented depicting various mental states. After each facial expression was shown, 4 different ways of responding to the face appeared on the screen and participants were asked to choose the option that was the most appropriate way to respond (e.g., ask her what you have done wrong was the correct response for the disapproving face).
Results: Overall, participants with ASD (58% correct) were poorer than typically developing participants (69% correct) at choosing the most appropriate response, yet this difference was not quite significant, F(1, 26)= 3.479, p= .073.
Conclusions: Children with ASD were able to choose an appropriate way to respond to a variety of facial expressions depicting mental states. However there was a trend for poorer performance compared to controls. This provides evidence that the difficulties they have in their everyday social interactions could be related to not knowing the appropriate way to respond, rather than with identification.