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The Way We See Faces May Indicate Autism

A UCSD psychologist says kids with autism see the world in a different way, and that may actually cause their behavior problems.

KPBS Reporter Tom Fudge has more.

The speed at which a brain processes the image of a face may be one of the primary signs of autism. That seems to be the conclusion of research done by psychologist Karen Dobkins. She examined a group of infants, some of whom were at high risk of autism because they had a sibling with the disease. She showed the kids pictures while their heads were covered with electronic sensors. She says kids with a low risk of autism processed pictures of faces more quickly than objects.

"And what we're finding in this group of infants, ten months old, who were at risk of developing autism they actually show the opposite effect," she says. "Their brains actually respond faster to pictures of objects than faces."

Dobkins says this abnormality may even cause an autistic child's troubled social behavior, since face recognition is fundamental to social interaction. But proving that cause and effect, she says, would be difficult. Tom Fudge, KPBS news.

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