Can autism be cured or only accommodated?

One thing leads to another. In my last post I mentioned two contending therapies for autism. Then I browsed through the latest issue of of ‘New Scientist’ and read that while there was great hope for treatment of some ‘the big five’ neural disorders (stroke, Alzheimers, etc.), there was little hope with regards autism. Standard ABA and perhaps medication are all that are mentioned.

ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) trains the autistic in social skills – the ways of regular folks; what certain of regular folks’ customs are and how to mimic these in order to get by better in the regulate word.

The social skills ABA trains include: behaving appropriately, following rules, good hygiene and proper dress. The autistic, though remains austistic. ABA’s motto might be: Fit in! Continue reading

Emotional face-reading II: Lessons from autism

Can one become more emotionally literate? And is so, how fundamental a change is that?

In my last post I reported on research by Calin Prodan and colleagues on emotional face-reading. To summarise:
• most emotional information is displayed on the top half of the face
• subjects routinely watched the lower half of presented faces
• even when instructed to look at the upper, most looked at the lower
• the best face-readers looked at the top half
• good face-readers used the right (instinctual?) emotional brain
• poor face-readers used the left (learned) emotional brain
One can train oneself to look at the top half and therefore improve one’s face-reading.

This has been troubling me overnight, here’s why. Continue reading

Emotional face-reading I: The eyes have it

Look me in the eye! Don’t give me the evil eye! Talk about conflicting messages.

When social systems produce ambiguous messages we can be sure there’s something powerful at stake. Neurology researchers from the University of Oklahoma may have struck on why it’s both a good thing and a bad thing to look people directly in the eye.

Calin Prodan and colleagues found that subjects typically only look at the bottom half of faces when asked to read a face’s emotion.  Even when specifically asked to look at the upper half of presented faces most continued to look only at the bottom half. Perhaps this is habitual because of social norms discouraging looking directly at/into others’ eyes. (Malcolm Gladwell has an excellent piece on face-reading.)

Those who did look at the top halves of faces were better at accurately reading emotions. In part this is because the truth of our emotions is more readily available on the upper half of the face than the lower. This could be because we find it easy to fake smiles, etc., says Prodan. (Paul Ekman is the boffin on facial deceit.) Continue reading