International Meeting for Autism Research (London, May 15-17, 2008): NEURAL CORRELATES OF EMOTIONAL FACE PROCESSING IN CHILDREN WITH AUTISM


Friday, May 16, 2008
Champagne Terrace/Bordeaux (Novotel London West)
K. Burner , Center on Human Development and Disability, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
S. J. Webb , Autism Center, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
K. Merkle , University of Washington, WA
M. Murias , University of Washington, Seattle, WA
G. Dawson , Psychology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Background: Behavioral and psychophysiological research suggests that emotion processing is impaired in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Furthermore, electrophysiological research indicates that 3-4 year old children with ASD fail to differentiate fearful and neutral faces.

Objectives: Examine event-related potentials (ERPs) to emotional faces in high-functioning children with ASD and investigate whether measures of social behavior are correlated with ERP responses.

Methods: Participants included 9-year-old children with ASD (n=28), typically developing children (n=35), and developmentally delayed children (n=15). Children passively viewed 50 exemplars of prototypical fearful and happy facial expressions while continuous EEG was recorded.

Results: Preliminary analysis of this sample included children with ASD and typically developing children. Initial results reveal no differences between groups in response to facial expressions measured by early and late ERP components.

Conclusions: These preliminary data do not reveal a deficit in emotional face processing in high-functioning children with ASD. These results differ from previous findings of emotion-processing deficits in young children with ASD. However, these results may be consistent with studies of high-functioning children with ASD that suggest that these children are utilizing top-down compensatory emotion-processing strategies. Future analyses will compare speed of processing at 3 and 9 years of age to examine potential developmental differences. Further analyses will also examine the relation between emotion processing and social ability, diagnostic severity, communication, and associated conditions.

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