Facial Features Provide Clue To Autism Severity
by Deborah Rudacille / 20 October 2011
Face map: Boys with autism have broader faces and mouths, flatter noses and narrower cheeks than controls do.
Boys with autism have a distinct facial structure that differs from that of typically developing controls, according to a study published 14 October in Molecular Autism1. Specifically, boys with autism have broader faces and mouths, flatter noses, narrower cheeks and a shorter philtrum the cleft between the lips and nose compared with controls, according to the three-dimensional facial imaging system used in the study. These distinctive features suggest that certain embryonic processes that give rise to facial features are perturbed during development, the researchers say.
The participants in the study were all 8 to 12 years old, an age range during which the face is relatively mature, but not yet affected by the hormonal changes of puberty.
The researchers used the imaging system, dubbed 3DMD, to plot 17 landmarks or coordinates on the face of 64 boys with autism and 40 typical controls. They then measured the distance between several of these coordinates.
Boys with autism who have the most distinctive facial features cluster into two groups with very different sets of autism symptoms, the researchers found.
Those differences almost certainly reflect underlying neurodevelopmental processes, she says. The reason to look at the face is that it reflects differences in the brain.
How Does It Work Differently
The connections within a brain bring it to life. And its the brain cells or neurons that act as the messengers. When a brain cell is active, it creates an electrical impulse and that gets propagated to other cells in the brain. We think that electrical activity holds the basis of thought and behavior and how the brain functions, Dr. Anderson says.
Researchers indirectly measure these electrical impulses by looking at how synchronized regions of the brain are. When regions are working together, they tend to have brain activity at the same time. Functional connectivity is the measurement of how much two regions of the brain seem to be synchronized or talking together.
Diagnosing Autism Spectrum Disorder
In order to determine whether your child has autism spectrum disorder or another developmental condition, clinicians look carefully at the way your child interacts with others, communicates, and behaves. Diagnosis is based on the patterns of behavior that are revealed.
If you are concerned that your child has autism spectrum disorder and developmental screening confirms the risk, ask your family doctor or pediatrician to refer you immediately to an autism specialist or team of specialists for a comprehensive evaluation. Since the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder is complicated, it is essential that you meet with experts who have training and experience in this highly specialized area.
The team of specialists involved in diagnosing your child may include:
Diagnosing Autism Spectrum Disorder is not a brief process. There is no single medical test that can diagnose it definitively instead, in order to accurately pinpoint your childs problem, multiple evaluations and tests may be necessary.
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Social Behavior And Social Understanding
Basic social interaction can be difficult for children with autism spectrum disorders. Symptoms may include:
- Unusual or inappropriate body language, gestures, and facial expressions .
- Lack of interest in other people or in sharing interests or achievements .
- Unlikely to approach others or to pursue social interaction comes across as aloof and detached prefers to be alone.
- Difficulty understanding other peoples feelings, reactions, and nonverbal cues.
- Resistance to being touched.
- Difficulty or failure to make friends with children the same age.
Getting An Autism Spectrum Disorder Diagnosis
The road to an ASD diagnosis can be difficult and time-consuming. In fact, it is often two to three years after the first symptoms of ASD are noticed before an official diagnosis is made. This is due in large part to concerns about labeling or incorrectly diagnosing the child. However, an ASD diagnosis can also be delayed if the doctor doesnt take a parents concerns seriously or if the family isnt referred to health care professionals who specialize in developmental disorders.
If youre worried that your child has ASD, its important to seek out a clinical diagnosis. But dont wait for that diagnosis to get your child into treatment. Early intervention during the preschool years will improve your childs chances for overcoming their developmental delays. So look into treatment options and try not to worry if youre still waiting on a definitive diagnosis. Putting a potential label on your kids problem is far less important than treating the symptoms.
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How To Begin A Diagnosis Process
Adults who suspect they or a loved one might be autistic can do a self-assessment test for adults. A person can find these tests online. While they cannot give a diagnosis, the tests are a good starting point.
A person seeking a diagnosis can take the results of such a test to a primary care doctor who will try to determine whether ASD may be present by:
- enquiring about the symptoms, both current and during childhood
- observing and interacting with the person
- speaking to a loved one
- checking for other physical or mental health conditions that may be causing symptoms
If no underlying physical condition can explain the symptoms, the doctor may refer the person to a psychiatrist or a psychologist to make an ASD diagnosis.
If symptoms are not present in childhood but begin in adolescence or adulthood, this may indicate a cognitive or mental health condition other than ASD.
It may be difficult to find a specialist who can diagnose ASD in adults. Individuals who would like a diagnosis for themselves or a loved one may need to do research to find a provider with experience diagnosing autistic adults.
Another option is to speak to a developmental pediatrician or child psychiatrist who is willing to see adult clients.
How Is The Structure Of The Brain Different
The neuroanatomy of autism is difficult to describe, Dr. Culotta says. So it might be easier to talk about the architecture of the brain and how the autistic brain may differ.
So whats different in the structure of this three-pound organ? Lets start with a quick anatomy refresher: First of all, the brain is split into two halves or hemispheres. It is these two hemispheres that we get the idea of a left brain and a right brain. In reality, our thinking and cognitive processes bounce back and forth between the two halves. Theres a little bit of difficulty in autism communicating between the left and right hemispheres in the brain. Theres not as many strong connections between the two hemispheres, Dr. Anderson says.
In recent years, science has found that the hemispheres of ASD brains have slightly more symmetry than those of a regular brain. This small difference in asymmetry isnt enough to diagnosis ASD, according to a report in Nature Communications. And, exactly how the symmetry may play into autisms traits is still be researched.
Now, were going to get a little technical. Grey matter ripples into peaks and troughs called gyri and sulci, respectively. According to researchers from San Diego State University, these deep folds and wrinkles may develop differently in ASD. Specifically, in autistic brains there is significantly more folding in the left parietal and temporal lobes as well as in the right frontal and temporal regions.
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We Leave Conversations Abruptly
Like modern-day Houdinis, autistic people are prone to a disappearing act or two. However, unlike the magicians of the past, were not exactly subtle about it. This can sometimes be observed when we are smack bang in the middle of a conversation and then, once weve said our piece, abracadabra, were as good as gone.
In truth, conversations can be hard work for autistic people, as finding the meaning behind the amalgamation of expressions, words and tone is a long and tiring process. Conversely, Were the ones that can get left behind in discussions and, with so much new information bombarding us, our automatic fight or flight kicks in and were outta there.
If you want to help an autistic person in these circumstances and ensure that we dont prematurely vamoose, give us plenty of opportunities to ask for more information and, maybe, consider speaking more slowly .
The Problem With Inappropriate
Now, very shortly Im going to answer the titular question and attempt to explain why appropriate and inappropriate are tricky for autistic people. But before I do, two reasons why I shudder whenever I hear my least favourite word in the dictionary.
Reason 1) In my experience, people often use inappropriate as a synonym for I dont personally like this so I want everyone else to stop it.
And thats the magic of inappropriate: you can cast it like a wizards spell. Just take something you have a personal dislike for, slap the grand title of inappropriate on it, and it bans everyone else from feeling able to do it themselves.
Reason 2) People often use appropriateness as a substitute for morality.
People, generally speaking, know the difference between right and wrong.
They also know the difference between appropriate and inappropriate.
But not everyone seems able to distinguish between right/wrong and appropriate/inappropriate.
I remember plenty of times when I fell short of other peoples appropriateness standards, and was made to feel as if I had done something morally wrong.
You may notice, both of those reasons related to how other people treat appropriateness. Neither of them describe any problem with the words existing. Appropriate and inappropriate should exist, but they should exist in much more accessible ways than they currently do.
Anyway, presumably everyone opening this article wanted actual answers to the question. So
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Autistic Facial Characteristics Identified
- University of Missouri-Columbia
- Researchers have found distinct differences between the facial characteristics of children with autism compared to those of typically developing children. This knowledge could help researchers understand the origins of autism.
The face and brain develop in coordination, with each influencing the other, beginning in the embryo and continuing through adolescence. Now, University of Missouri researchers have found distinct differences between the facial characteristics of children with autism compared to those of typically developing children.This knowledge could help researchers understand the origins of autism.
“There is no clear answer about whether autism is caused by genetics or by environmental influences,” said Kristina Aldridge, lead author and assistant professor of anatomy in the MU School of Medicine and the Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders. “If we can identify when these facial changes occur, we could pinpoint when autism may begin to develop in a child. Knowing that point in time could lead us to identify a genetic cause, a window of time when the embryo may be susceptible to an environmental factor, or both.”
Aldridge and colleagues found the following distinct differences between facial characteristics of children with autism and those of typically developing children:
She says these are subtle differences that will enable researchers to further study people with autism spectrum disorders.
Autism And Lying: Can Autistic Children Lie
All children lie at some point, usually to avoid getting in trouble. That doesnt mean they do it wellafter all, who else but your toddler would scribble all over the walls?
Most children with autism struggle with abstract concepts, social communication, and interpreting things literally, so as a parent, you might wonder: Can my child with autism lie? Does lying come as naturally to autistic children as typically developing children? Can they tell when others are lying to them?
Luckily, autism research has looked into this topic, so lets explore it.
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Other Signs Of Autism
You may also have other signs, like:
- not understanding social “rules”, such as not talking over people
- avoiding eye contact
- getting too close to other people, or getting very upset if someone touches or gets too close to you
- noticing small details, patterns, smells or sounds that others do not
- having a very keen interest in certain subjects or activities
- liking to plan things carefully before doing them
How Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder Play
Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder tend to be less spontaneous than other kids. Unlike a typical curious little kid pointing to things that catch their eye, children with ASD often appear disinterested or unaware of whats going on around them. They also show differences in the way they play. They may have trouble with functional play, or using toys that have a basic intended use, such as toy tools or cooking set. They usually dont play make-believe, engage in group games, imitate others, collaborate, or use their toys in creative ways.
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Lack Of Acceptance By Professionals
Problem: There is sometimes a lack of acceptance by professionals that ASD can coexist in a child with Down syndrome who has cognitive impairment. They may feel an additional label is not necessary or accurate. Parents may be told, This is part of low functioning Down syndrome. We now know this is incorrect. Children with DS-ASD are clearly distinguishable from children with Down syndrome alone or those who have Down syndrome and severe cognitive impairment when standardized diagnostic assessment tools such as the ABC are used.
Result: Parents become frustrated and may give up trying to obtain more specific medical treatment or behavioral intervention.
Do Autistic Adults Prefer Mouths Over Eyes
In a seminal eye-tracking study, Klin et al. found that, in watching excerpts from a movie, neurotypical adults preferentially looked at the protagonists eyes, whereas autistic participants looked less at faces, and, when they did, mostly paid attention to the mouth region. Klin et al. hypothesize that autistic adults preferentially gaze at mouths of speaking people, because this is the facial region that provides them with essential interactional information.
However, it is unclear whether autistic adults genuinely prefer the mouth region or whether they simply avoid the eye region . While some studies reported a preference for mouths over eyes in autistic adults , others did not replicate this preference or even found no group differences in fixations on the eyes or on the mouth . Such inconsistent results may be partly due to methodological variation between studies: some paradigms render the mouth region salient , while others attract participants attention to the eyes . A promising way to determine the extent to which autistic adults are genuinely attracted to mouths would be to render the eye region particularly relevant, while keeping the mouth region salient. If the preference for the mouth is robust, one should expect it to obfuscate the relevance of the eyes to autistic participants.
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Brain Development And Asd
The development of the brain and how it functions is different in some way in children with DS-ASD than their peers with Down syndrome. Characterizing and recording these differences in brain development through detailed evaluation of both groups of children will provide a better understanding of the situation and possible treatments for children with DS-ASD.
A detailed analysis of the brain performed at autopsy or with magnetic resonance imaging in children with autism shows involvement of several different regions of the brain:
- The limbic system, which is important for regulating emotional response, mood and memory,
- The temporal lobes, which are important for hearing and normal processing of sounds,
- The cerebellum, which coordinates motor movements and some cognitive operations, and
- The corpus callosum, which connects the two hemispheres of the cortex together.
At Kennedy Krieger Institute, we have conducted MRI studies of 25 children with DS-ASD. The preliminary results support the notion that the cerebellum and corpus callosum is different in appearance in these children compared to those with Down syndrome alone. We are presently evaluating other areas of the brain, including the limbic system and all major cortical subregions, to look for additional markers that will distinguish children with DS-ASD from their peers with Down syndrome alone.
Why Do Autistic People Struggle With Inappropriate
Ah, inappropriate. My least favourite word in the whole of the English language.
But the English language has over a million words. Why do I hate that one so much?
Because I just dont get it.
And of course, plenty of other autistic people struggle too. On I asked people if they were willing to share some of their stories about themselves or their kids doing something inappropriate without realising.
The results were amazing.
So, the pictures in this article will be made exclusively from their stories.
As a child, every time I got interrupted Id start my whole story again right from the start. That annoyed people, so in their eyes I was being socially inappropriate.
In all fairness though, people stopped interrupting me pretty quickly once they learned I always started the whole bloody story again. Inappropriate or not, it worked!
These days, Im an adult who goes really really high on park swings, rather than just sit back and watch the kids do it. Nobody has ever been able to explain why its inappropriate for me as an adult to have a go too. It just is.
Im a person who has no problem discussing religious beliefs in large groups. Its inappropriate to talk about it here in Britain, but nobody can tell me why. It just is.
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Do Social Gender Social Anxiety Or Alexithymia Contribute To Atypical Processing Of Eyes In Autism
While there is a growing interest in gender differences in autism, only a few eye-tracking studies controlled for the effects of gender on social processing in autism . Most of these studies suggest a potentially higher social attention in autistic females compared to autistic males. It is therefore important to include gender-balanced samples when studying visual exploration of faces in autistic adults.
Social anxiety, defined as a fear of negative evaluation that leads to an excessive concern about social situations , is a comorbidity often attested in autistic adults . Socially anxious individuals may look less at faces and avoid direct gaze . For this reason, it is important to control for social anxiety in investigating social cue processing in autism.
Finally, alexithymia is a personality trait that could also impact the processing of social cues . Alexithymia is defined as a difficulty to identify and label emotions and is often attested in autistic individuals . For example, in Bird et al. , alexithymia scores, but not autism severity, significantly predicted eye-to-mouth fixation ratios. Unfortunately, alexithymia is rarely measured in studies assessing social attention .