Distinct Facial Features Linked To Boys With Autism

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COLUMBIA - A group of MU researchers reports it has found certain facial characteristics indicate autism in boys.

Kristina Aldridge, assistant professor of anatomy and pathological sciences in MU's School of Medicine, worked with a team of six researchers to analyze 64 boys with autism and 41 boys without autism. The children's age ranged from eight to 12 years old.

A 3-D camera was used to capture an image of each child's head and mapped 17 points on each child's face. "What we found was in looking at the statistical patterns of the overall shapes of their faces that the boys with autism have a systematic, really subtle, but systematic difference as compared to the boys without autism," Aldridge explained.

They found there were differences in the middle region of the face. "The middle region of the face, it's a little bit shorter in boys with autism. Their eyes are wider, so they have big beautiful eyes, and they have broader mouths as compared to the boys that do not have autism," Aldridge said.

The research also showed there are two subgroups found within the children with autism. Those differences correspond with behavioral differences including eating habits.

The study began more than four years ago in 2008. "We know that there is an effect on the brain in autism, that is the resulting behavioral differences in kids with autism so we would expect given their intimate relationship during development there would be some subtle differences in the face as well," Aldridge explained.

The team worked with patients of the MU Thompson Center to complete its study. "We really appreciate the families being able to participate in research. The Thompson Center is always appreciative of the families and all of the help that the community has provided to the Thompson Center," Aldridge said.