Studies of early face perception are used to develop a model of how face expressions might be transduced to initiate consonant internal affect, related outward expressions and other behaviours. Underlying neural mechanisms and processes are identified. The model is generalised to offer an account of aspects of typical preverbal social development. It is then used to develop aetiological hypotheses about the lack of social interest and motivation in autism and to provide a framework for evaluating other theories of autism. Although derived from existing literature, the model offers a distinctive account.