463Asperger - Kevin MacDonald, Ph.D. CSULB, Department of...

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Kevin MacDonald, Ph.D. CSULB , Department of Psychology Home | Course Materials | Books | Evolutionary Psychology | CV Link to New Scientist article on Asperger's Syndrome: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 17 APRIL 2001 University of Washington http://www.washington.edu/ Mother is just another face in the crowd to autistic children Unlike normally developing and mentally retarded children, autistic 3- and 4-year-olds do not react to a picture of their mother but do react when they see a picture of a familiar toy, a University of Washington psychologist has found. Geraldine Dawson will report her result Thursday in Minneapolis at the annual meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development. Her finding suggests that an impairment in face recognition may turn out to be one of the earliest indicators of abnormal brain development in autism. Dawson, who directs the UW Autism Center, said human brains seem to be wired to be interested in faces and there appears to be a specialized system for face recognition. "We know that even newborn babies are drawn to face-like stimuli. This inborn interest in faces is the start of social development," she said. "This new study tells us something very fundamental about abnormalities in autism. It may be an important clue to actual brain circuits that are not functioning properly. Since all of the children in the study reacted similarly to toys and only the children with autism had problems with face recognition, it tell us autism is not a global problem. Rather, it indicates an abnormality in those brain circuits responsible for social function. It highlights that autism is a disorder of the social brain." Dawson said the idea that face recognition may be hard-wired, or something people are born with, is controversial. "Just as with language, the brain comes with a readiness to recognize faces. But it also requires experience. With autism there may be some other reason why children don't pay attention to faces. They may not find it rewarding, and then that part of their brain does not develop further." The region of the brain that appears to be specifically devoted to face recognition is the right fusiform gyrus, located in the temporal lobe, according to Dawson.
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To learn how the brain operates, Dawson used a device called a geodesic net that looks like a hairnet and fits over the head. It records electrical brain impulses from 64 places on a child's scalp. Similar devices for adults record data from 128 locations. Dawson's study involved 34 children with autism, 21 normally developing children and 17 with mental retardation but no autism. Some autistic children also are mentally retarded. Each of the children was shown two sets of images - faces and objects - about 50 times. First they were shown digitized photos of their mother or a stranger. Then they were
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463Asperger - Kevin MacDonald, Ph.D. CSULB, Department of...

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