Autism: Is it all in the eyes?

I’ve written a lot about Autism here over the years and spoken about the different ways in which it has been suggested it was possible to find out if a person or child was autistic; from the Sally-Anne test to this more recent suggestion from Baron-Cohen et al. – the eyes and emotion recognition. 

In his 1997 study Baron-Cohen used adult participants with autism or Aspergers and compared there ability to recognise emotions from only seeing the eyes of a target person with ‘normal’ participants and further group of participants with Tourettes.  He found that those with Autism performed significantly worse on the ‘eye task’.  He suggested that this could have significance relating to those with autism’s poor social skills and difficulty with social interaction. 

If you want to read more about the study you can pop over to Holah and read his summary of the study or read the full-text article here at PsychBLOG.

Have a go on the test yourself and see how you do.  You can get PDF versions of the Eye test from the Autism Research Centre or visit Glenn Rowe’s site where he has created an online version of the test.  You can also view the results of over 15,000 peoples tests there too which is an interesting comparison and a massive sample for comparison to the Baron-Cohen (1997) research.

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9 Responses to “Autism: Is it all in the eyes?”

  1. kim October 3, 2008 at 2:45 pm #

    Thank you for the PDF article !! very good blog, so rich and so clean :)

  2. kerryann smith November 11, 2008 at 10:04 pm #

    To whom it may concern ,
    I have currently got a job with a child of 5 years that has server autism. I wondered if you would have any information or resources in which could help me when aiding the child. I would be more than grateful if you could send me some information or resources either to the email address or to my home address which is :-
    46 Cannock Road
    WS11 5BX

    Yours faithfully

    Miss Kerryann Smith

  3. Ruth Miners November 13, 2008 at 8:07 am #

    I have lots of experience of working with children with autism, and some resources etc. which may help you. As I’m sure you realise, autism covers a HUGE area. If you email me with the particular problems that the child you are working with has, I’ ll be able to make some suggestions.


  4. autism Treatment December 18, 2008 at 4:26 pm #

    thanks for the information, good article

  5. Dan June 11, 2009 at 8:19 pm #

    Really interesting webpage. I am a mathematics masters student, in my experience I have, I think, only known one person who I thought was autistic (a fellow student), although he could just have been strange. I have never had any autistic professors either, and until recently (talking to people who I have met who work with autistic kids) I never thought anything of it before, but now I did some research. Prevalence of autism and Aspergers seems to be reasonably high in mathematicians, but only about the same as in males vs females. As Sir Michael Atiyah has said, “the vast majority of mathematicians do not show any autistic traits”.

    I don’t agree with the “systemizing vs empathizing” point of view of Baron-Cohen, come to mention it. I just think any subject that has to do with people (english, humanities), is not an option for autistic people, so they flock to the other subjects. It’s “about people vs not about people”. I don’t think it’s even possible to batch mathematics, engineering, physics and chemistry under a pale, trite phrase such as “systemizing” (try as I might it rings hollow for me). What is possible is to point out that they have something simple in common – they aren’t about people.

  6. Dan June 11, 2009 at 8:19 pm #

    I do think autism is one path to come at these subjects due to the flocking/funneling effect I explained above. I am quite emotive, and I scored 11 in the AQ test (despite a couple of loaded math questions like “are you interested in numbers and patterns?” well duh… I do maths…) and got 30 out of 36 on the Glenn Rowe test. I think about maths every day. But I’m not a nerd and I’m not remotely autistic.

    If I were a girl I would be very offended by the suggestion that a hyper-female (as opposed to autistic, hyper-male) brain would have “systems-blindness” (*derisive snort*) and presumably an incapability to do maths or science or engineering. My lecturer this year in algebraic number theory (at one of the world’s top ten universities) was one of the girliest girls I have ever met. You would probably take her for a ditzy bimbo if you met her. But she has a scary knowledge of mathematics. She can do this because there is nothing inherently male about mathematics.

    All that is true is that (on average) men are more into maths than women, and that (on average) autistic people are more into maths than non-autistic people. Extremely girly women can be mathematically minded, but Baron-Cohen seems not to be aware of these women. Probably because he hasn’t met them.

  7. David July 17, 2009 at 9:43 am #

    Hmmm, I have to say I really question the online-based autism test (AQ). I took the test twice, and my scores were 25, and 24, respectively. It seems like the scale used to judge answers is flawed. For instance, many of the questions asked varied by scenario for me. I have to say that a lot of the scenario question for social settings had two completely different sets of answers. It all depends on who is attending these social functions. Also, considering that a lot of behavior is learned – I find it difficult to truthfully answer some of these questions. Sometimes I can be very blunt, and others extremely diplomatic. Do the answers to these questions lie in how I would act not being restricted by social conventions and there being no social repercussions? I could go on and on (another learned trait, over time I’ve learned that people, including myself, just don’t want to hear others go on and on about something. However, sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t – it all depends on my judgement.)

    So, maybe I’m taking this out-of-context. But I think the tests themselves are seriously flawed using this type of scale.

  8. London Counselling September 6, 2011 at 4:24 pm #

    It is not all the time that you get to have an answer through the eyes. Aside from what most people say that the truth is seen in the eyes, that doesn’t do the same thing if we are to talk about noticing a person’s ailment. Autism is not only found in the eyes but on the entire being of a person.


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