Background: An emerging body of evidence indicates that relative to typically developing children, children with autism are selectively impaired in their ability to recognize facial identity. A critical question is whether face recognition skills can be enhanced through a direct training intervention.
Methods: In a randomized clinical trial, children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder were pre-screened with a battery of subtests (the Let’s Face It! Skills battery) examining face and object processing abilities. Participants who were significantly impaired in their face processing abilities were assigned to either a treatment or a waitlist group. Children in the treatment group (N = 42) received 20 hours of face training with the Let’s Face It! (LFI!) computer-based intervention. The LFI! program is comprised of seven interactive computer games that target the specific face impairments associated with autism, including the recognition of identity across image changes in expression, viewpoint and features, analytic and holistic face processing strategies and attention to information in the eye region. Time 1 and Time 2 performance for the treatment and waitlist groups was assessed with the Let’s Face It! Skills battery.
Results: The main finding was that relative to the control group (N = 37), children in the face training group demonstrated reliable improvements in their analytic recognition of mouth features and holistic recognition of a face based on its eyes features.
Conclusion: These results indicate that a relatively short-term intervention program can produce measurable improvements in the face recognition skills of children with autism. As a treatment for face processing deficits, the Let’s Face It! program has advantages of being cost-free, adaptable to the specific learning needs of the individual child and suitable for home and school applications.