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Jim Tanaka, Julie Wolf, Robert Schultz; The Let's Face It! Program: The assessment and treatment of face processing deficits in children with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Vision 2010;10(7):593. doi: 10.1167/10.7.593.
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Although it has been well established that individuals with autism exhibit difficulties in their face recognition abilities, it has been debated whether the deficit reflects a category-specific impairment of faces or a perceptual bias toward local level information. To address this question, the Let's Face It! Skills Battery was administered to children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and IQ- and age-matched typical developing children. The main finding was that children with ASD were selectively impaired in their ability to recognize faces across changes in orientation and expression. Children with ASD exhibited preserved featural and configural discrimination in the mouth region, but compromised featural and configural discrimination in the eye region. Critically, for non-face objects, children with autism showed normal recognition of automobiles and a superior ability to discriminate featural and configural information in houses. These findings indicate that the face processing deficits in ASD are not due to a local processing bias, but reflect face-specific impairments, characterized by a failure to form view-invariant face representations and impaired perception of information in the eyes. Can the face processing deficits of ASD be remediated through perceptual training? In a randomized clinical trial, children (N = 42) received 20 hours of face training with the Let's Face It! (LFI!) computer-based intervention. The LFI! program is comprised of seven interactive computer games that target the specific face impairments of autism. The main finding was that relative to the waitlist ASD group (N = 37), children in the active treatment training group demonstrated significant gains on the parts/wholes test. The treatment group showed improved analytic recognition of the mouth features and holistic recognition of the eyes. These results indicate that a relatively short-term intervention program can produce measurable improvements in the face processing skills of children with autism.
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