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The eyes tell all: well at least for autistic children they do

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Autism is a developmental disorder that we investigate in the first year with Simon Baron-Cohen. One of the impairments that some autistic people were thought to have was an in-ability to interpret emotions from facial expressions and many studies have provided support for this thesis. However, autistic children are able to interpret the mental state of others by looking at their eyes, contrary to previous research, a new University of Nottingham study has found.

In the current study it was found that autistic children can ‘read’ a stranger’s mental state based on that person’s eyes, and that autistic children were able to interpret mental states when looking at animated facial expressions. The findings also suggest that the use of moving images, rather than conventional still pictures, gives a much more accurate measure of the abilities of autistic children.

Autistic children have long been thought to be poor at interpreting people’s mental states based on facial expressions, especially expressions around the eyes. Some researchers believe that this lack of ability could be central to the social problems experienced by autistic children and adults. Researchers hope that by increasing understanding of autism, their findings may ultimately help in the teaching and treatment of people with the condition.

An estimated 588,000 people have autism in the UK, according to the National Autistic Society. A mental health survey by the Office for National Statistics found the prevalence of children and young people anywhere on the autistic spectrum is 0.9 per cent – almost one in every 100.

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