Communicative and Emotional Facial Expression Production in Children with Autism

Funded by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), R21DC010867

Ruth B. Grossman

Research on non-verbal communication in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) has focused on the perception and categorization of facial expressions, but very little attention has been paid to the production of facial expressions in this population, in part due to the difficulties associated with developing and implementing a meaningful and consistent coding system for this complex aspect of communication.

The purpose of this project is to provide a significant contribution to the field of ASD research by using cutting-edge motion-tracking technology combined with subjective coding to establish a first cohesive picture of the communicative facial expression productions of adolescents with ASD. An array of six infrared high-speed video cameras will record the movement of 30 tiny reflective markers attached to the faces of participants while they are engaged in storytelling, natural conversation, and other communicative tasks. The cameras will provide detailed information on the movements of facial features and allow her to capture the excursion, symmetry, and movement properties of dynamic facial expressions.

Dr. Grossman’s goal is to determine whether there are dynamic patterns that differentiate the facial expression productions of adolescents with ASD from those of typical adolescents. The long-range aim is to derive intervention strategies to improve the nonverbal communication skills of individuals with ASD and thereby promote more successful social integration.