Share This Article:

“Please Draw Me a Face…” Atypical Face Mental Concept in Autism

Abstract Full-Text HTML Download Download as PDF (Size:3269KB) PP. 1392-1403
DOI: 10.4236/psych.2014.511150    4,292 Downloads   5,114 Views   Citations


Autism is a severe neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by early manifestations of social difficulties and atypical sensory-based behaviors. As faces are essential for social interaction, they have been widely investigated in autism, revealing disruptions in face processing. Cognitive theories argue that people with autism process the world differently, showing a processing bias for local information. However, the literature currently neglects the mental representation of faces, or face concept, in people with ASD. The current study sought to establish how young children with ASD “see” a human face. A key question is whether this face concept is a function of cognitive style and/or sensory impairment. By comparing simple face drawings in young children with ASD, with those of deaf children and controls, we highlight an atypical face concept in ASD that does not show, however, global processing deficits: face drawing presents a preserved overall configuration. The atypical face drawings in children with ASD showed similarities with those of deaf children: eyes were not an essential feature, whereas a marked interest for ears and non-facial external features (accessories, body parts) was shown. These findings suggest that the face mental concept in ASD may be impacted by sensory processing deficits.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Cite this paper

Meaux, E. , Bakhos, D. , Bonnet-Brilhault, F. , Gillet, P. , Lescanne, E. , Barthélémy, C. & Batty, M. (2014). “Please Draw Me a Face…” Atypical Face Mental Concept in Autism. Psychology, 5, 1392-1403. doi: 10.4236/psych.2014.511150.


[1] APA (2000). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV). Washington DC: APA.
[2] Arkush, L., Smith-Collins, A. P., Fiorentini, C., & Skuse, D. H. (2013). Recognition of Face and Non-Face Stimuli in Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Autism Research.
[3] Ashwin, E., Ashwin, C., Rhydderch, D., Howells, J., & Baron-Cohen, S. (2009). Eagle-Eyed Visual Acuity: An Experimental Investigation of Enhanced Perception in Autism. Biological Psychiatry, 65, 17-21.
[4] Barthelemy, C., Roux, S., Adrien, J. L., Hameury, L., Guerin, P., Garreau, B., Fermanian, J., & Lelord, G. (1997). Validation of the Revised Behavior Summarized Evaluation Scale. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 27, 139-153.
[5] Batty, M., Meaux, E., Wittemeyer, K., Roge, B., & Taylor, M. J. (2011). Early Processing of Emotional Faces in Children with Autism: An Event-Related Potential Study. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 109, 430-444.
[6] Bavelier, D., Dye, M. W., & Hauser, P. C. (2006). Do Deaf Individuals See Better? Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 10, 512-518.
[7] Bavelier, D., Tomann, A., Hutton, C., Mitchell, T., Corina, D., Liu, G., & Neville, H. (2000). Visual Attention to the Periphery Is Enhanced in Congenitally Deaf Individuals. The Journal of Neuroscience, 20, RC93.
[8] Bertone, A., Mottron, L., Jelenic, P., & Faubert, J. (2005). Enhanced and Diminished Visuo-Spatial Information Processing in Autism Depends on Stimulus Complexity. Brain, 128, 2430-2441.
[9] Blakemore, S. J., Tavassoli, T., Calo, S., Thomas, R. M., Catmur, C., Frith, U., & Haggard, P. (2006). Tactile Sensitivity in Asperger Syndrome. Brain and Cognition, 61, 5-13.
[10] Booth, R., Charlton, R., Hughes, C., & Happe, F. (2003). Disentangling Weak Coherence and Executive Dysfunction: Planning Drawing in Autism and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 358, 387-392.
[11] Bruneau, N., Bonnet-Brilhault, F., Gomot, M., Adrien, J. L., & Barthelemy, C. (2003). Cortical Auditory Processing and Communication in Children with Autism: Electrophysiological/Behavioral Relations. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 51, 17-25.
[12] Capek, C. M., Waters, D., Woll, B., MacSweeney, M., Brammer, M. J., McGuire, P. K., David, A. S., & Campbell, R. (2008). Hand and Mouth: Cortical Correlates of Lexical Processing in British Sign Language and Speechreading English. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 20, 1220-1234.
[13] Centelles, L., Assaiante, C., Etchegoyhen, K., Bouvard, M., & Schmitz, C. (2012). Understanding Social Interaction in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Does Whole-Body Motion Mean Anything to Them? L’Encéphale, 38, 232-240.
[14] Chamberlain, R., McManus, I. C., Riley, H., Rankin, Q., & Brunswick, N. (2013). Local Processing Enhancements Associated with Superior Observational Drawing Are Due to Enhanced Perceptual Functioning, Not Weak Central Coherence. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 66, 1448-1466.
[15] Cohen, D. J. (2005). Look Little, Look Often: The Influence of Gaze Frequency on Drawing Accuracy. Perception and Psychophysics, 67, 997-1009.
[16] Cohen, D. J., & Bennett, S. (1997). Why Can’t Most People Draw What They See? Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 23, 609-621.
[17] Coulbeau, L., Royer, P., Brouziyne, M., Dosseville, F., & Molinaro, C. (2008). Development of Children’s Mental Representations: Effects of Age, Sex, and School Experience. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 106, 241-250.
[18] Cox, M., & Eames, K. (1999). Contrasting Styles of Drawing in Gifted Individuals with Autism. Autism, 3, 397-409.
[19] Crane, L., Goddard, L., & Pring, L. (2009). Sensory Processing in Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Autism, 13, 215-228.
[20] Dakin, S., & Frith, U. (2005). Vagaries of Visual Perception in Autism. Neuron, 48, 497-507.
[21] Dalton, K. M., Nacewicz, B. M., Johnstone, T., Schaefer, H. S., Gernsbacher, M. A., Goldsmith, H. H., Alexander, A. L., & Davidson, R. J. (2005). Gaze Fixation and the Neural Circuitry of Face Processing in Autism. Nature Neuroscience, 8, 519-526.
[22] De Filippo, C. L., & Lansing, C. R. (2006). Eye Fixations of Deaf and Hearing Observers in Simultaneous Communication Perception. Ear & Hearing, 27, 331-352.
[23] Deruelle, C., Rondan, C., Gepner, B., & Tardif, C. (2004). Spatial Frequency and Face Processing in Children with Autism and Asperger Syndrome. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 34, 199-210.
[24] Drake, J. E., & Winner, E. (2012). Superior Visual Analysis and Imagery in an Autistic Child with Drawing Talent. Imagination, Cognition and Personality, 31, 9-29.
[25] Drake, J. E., Redash, A., Coleman, K., Haimson, J., & Winner, E. (2010). “Autistic” Local Processing Bias also Found in Children Gifted in Realistic Drawing. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 40, 762-773.
[26] Eames, K., & Cow, M. V. (1994). Visual Realism in the Drawing of Autistic, Down’s Syndrome and Normal Children. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 12, 235-239.
[27] Emery, A. E. H. (2004). How Neurological Disease Can Affect an Artist’s Work. Practical Neurology, 4, 366-371.
[28] Emmorey, K., Thompson, R., & Colvin, R. (2009). Eye Gaze during Comprehension of American Sign Language by Native and Beginning Signers. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 14, 237-243.
[29] Faja, S., Webb, S. J., Merkle, K., Aylward, E., & Dawson, G. (2009). Brief Report: Face Configuration Accuracy and Processing Speed among Adults with High-Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 39, 532-538.
[30] Farah, M. J. (1996). Is Face Recognition “Special”? Evidence from Neuropsychology. Behavioural Brain Research, 76, 181-189.
[31] Fein, D., Lucci, D., & Waterhouse, L. (1990). Brief Report: Fragmented Drawings in Autistic Children. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 20, 263-269.
[32] Gepner, B. (2004). Autism, Movement, and Facial Processing. American Journal of Psychiatry, 161, 1719-1720.
[33] Gepner, B., & Mestre, D. (2002a). Rapid Visual-Motion Integration Deficit in Autism. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 6, 455.
[34] Gepner, B., & Mestre, D. R. (2002b). Brief Report: Postural Reactivity to Fast Visual Motion Differentiates Autistic from Children with Asperger Syndrome. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 32, 231-238.
[35] Gepner, B., Deruelle, C., & Grynfeltt, S. (2001). Motion and Emotion: A Novel Approach to the Study of Face Processing by Young Autistic Children. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 31, 37-45.
[36] Gomes-Correia, A. (2000). Drawing of the Family and of the Human Figure: A Comparative Study between Children with Epilepsy and a Control Group. Revista de Neurologia, 31, 401-407.
[37] Grandin, T. (1992). Calming Effects of Deep Touch Pressure in Patients with Autistic Disorder, College Students, and Animals. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology, 2, 63-72.
[38] Happe, F., & Booth, R. D. (2008). The Power of the Positive: Revisiting Weak Coherence in Autism Spectrum Disorders. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 61, 50-63.
[39] Happe, F., & Frith, U. (2006). The Weak Coherence Account: Detail-Focused Cognitive Style in Autism Spectrum Disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 36, 5-25.
[40] Itier, R. J., & Batty, M. (2009). Neural Bases of Eye and Gaze Processing: The Core of Social Cognition. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 33, 843-863.
[41] Jackson, J. (2003). Multicoloured Mayhem: Parenting the Many Shades of Adolescents and Children with Autism, Asperger Syndrome and AD/HD. London: Jessica Kingsley.
[42] Jackson, L. (2002). Freaks, Geeks and Asperger Syndrome: A User Guide to Adolescence. London: Jessica Kingsley.
[43] Jolley, R. P., O’Kelly, R., Barlow, C. M., & Jarrold, C. (2013). Expressive Drawing Ability in Children with Autism. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 31, 143-149.
[44] Klein, S. B., Gabriel, R. H., Gangi, C. E., & Robertson, T. E. (2008). Reflection on the Self: A Case Study of a Prosopagnosic Patient. Social Cognition, 26, 766-777.
[45] Klin, A., Jones, W., Schultz, R., Volkmar, F., & Cohen, D. (2002). Visual Fixation Patterns during Viewing of Naturalistic Social Situations as Predictors of Social Competence in Individuals with Autism. JAMA Psychiatry, 59, 809-816.
[46] Kozbelt, A., Seidel, A., El Bassiouny, A., Mark, Y., & Owen, D. R. (2010). Visual Selection Contributes to Artists’ Advantages in Realistic Drawing. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts, 4, 93-102.
[47] Kuschner, E. S., Bodner, K. E., & Minshew, N. J. (2009). Local vs. Global Approaches to Reproducing the Rey Osterrieth Complex Figure by Children, Adolescents, and Adults with High-Functioning Autism. Autism Research, 2, 348-358.
[48] Lee, A., & Hobson, R. P. (2006). Drawing Self and Others: How Do Children with Autism Differ from Those with Learning Difficulties? British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 24, 547-565.
[49] Leekam, S. R., Nieto, C., Libby, S. J., Wing, L., & Gould, J. (2007). Describing the Sensory Abnormalities of Children and Adults with Autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 37, 894-910.
[50] Marco, E. J., Hinkley, L. B., Hill, S. S., & Nagarajan, S. S. (2011). Sensory Processing in Autism: A Review of Neurophysiologic Findings. Pediatric Research, 69, 48R-54R.
[51] Minshew, N. J., Sweeney, J., & Luna, B. (2002). Autism as a Selective Disorder of Complex Information Processing and Underdevelopment of Neocortical Systems. Molecular Psychiatry, 7, S14-S15.
[52] Mottron, L., & Belleville, S. (1993). A Study of Perceptual Analysis in a High-Level Autistic Subject with Exceptional Graphic Abilities. Brain and Cognition, 23, 279-309.
[53] Mottron, L., & Burack, J. (2001). Enhanced Perceptual Functioning in the Development of Autism. In J. A. Burack, T. Charman, N. Yirmiya, & P. R. Zelazo (Eds.), The Development of Autism: Perspectives from Theory and Research (pp. 131-148). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
[54] Mottron, L., Belleville, S., & Menard, E. (1999). Local Bias in Autistic Subjects as Evidenced by Graphic Tasks: Perceptual Hierarchization or Working Memory Deficit? Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 40, 743-755.
[55] Mottron, L., Dawson, M., Soulieres, I., Hubert, B., & Burack, J. (2006). Enhanced Perceptual Functioning in Autism: An Update, and Eight Principles of Autistic Perception. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 36, 27-43.
[56] Muir, L. J., & Richardson, I. E. (2005). Perception of Sign Language and Its Application to Visual Communications for Deaf People. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 10, 390-401.
[57] Neumann, D., Kohlbacher, O., Merkwirth, C., & Lengauer, T. (2006). A Fully Computational Model for Predicting Percutaneous Drug Absorption. Journal of Chemical Information and Modeling, 46, 424-429.
[58] Neville, H. J., & Lawson, D. S. (1987). Attention to Central and Peripheral Visual Space in a Movement Detection Task: An Event Related Potential and Behavioral Study. II. Congenitally Deaf Adults. Brain Research, 405, 268-283.
[59] O’Brien, G., & Pearson, J. (2004). Autism and Learning Disability. Autism, 8, 125-140.
[60] Ostrofsky, J., Kozbelt, A., & Seidel, A. (2012). Perceptual Constancies and Visual Selection as Predictors of Realistic Drawing Skill. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts, 6, 124-136.
[61] Perron-Borelli, M. (1996). Echelle différentielle d’efficience intellectuelle. Forme révisée. Paris: Editions et Applications Psychologiques.
[62] Pring, L., Ryder, N., Crane, L., & Hermelin, B. (2010). Local and Global Processing in Savant Artists with Autism. Perception, 39, 1094-1103.
[63] Proksch, J., & Bavelier, D. (2002). Changes in the Spatial Distribution of Visual Attention after Early Deafness. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 14, 687-701.
[64] Scherf, K. S., Luna, B., Kimchi, R., Minshew, N., & Behrmann, M. (2008). Missing the Big Picture: Impaired Development of Global Shape Processing in Autism. Autism Research, 1, 114-129.
[65] Schneider, S., Christensen, A., Haussinger, F. B., Fallgatter, A. J., Giese, M. A., & Ehlis, A. C. (2013). Show Me How You Walk and I Tell You How You Feel—A Functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy Study on Emotion Perception Based on Human Gait. Neuroimage, 85, 380-390.
[66] Schopler, E., Rechler, R. J., & Rochen Renner, B. R. (1988). The Childhood Autism Rating Scale. Los Angeles, CA: Western Psychological Services.
[67] Sheppard, E., Mitchell, P., & Ropar, D. (2008). Differences between Individuals with and without Autism in Copying Tasks: How Knowledge Interferes When Drawing Perspective. In C. Lange-Küttner, & A. Vinter (Eds.), Drawing and the Non-Verbal Mind: A Life-Span Perspective (pp. 325-343). New York: Cambridge University Press.
[68] Speer, L. L., Cook, A. E., McMahon, W. M., & Clark, E. (2007). Face Processing in Children with Autism: Effects of Stimulus Contents and Type. Autism, 11, 265-277.
[69] Spezio, M. L., Adolphs, R., Hurley, R. S., & Piven, J. (2007). Analysis of Face Gaze in Autism Using “Bubbles”. Neuropsychologia, 45, 144-151.
[70] Spezio, M. L., Huang, P. Y., Castelli, F., & Adolphs, R. (2007). Amygdala Damage Impairs Eye Contact during Conversations with Real People. Journal of Neuroscience, 27, 3994-3997.
[71] Teunisse, J. P., & de Gelder, B. (2003). Face Processing in Adolescents with Autistic Disorder: The Inversion and Composite Effects. Brain and Cognition, 52, 285-294.
[72] Tomchek, S. D., & Dunn, W. (2007). Sensory Processing in Children with and without Autism: A Comparative Study Using the Short Sensory Profile. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 61, 190-200.
[73] Tottenham, N., Hertzig, M. E., Gillespie-Lynch, K., Gilhooly, T., Millner, A. J., & Casey, B. J. (2013). Elevated Amygdala Response to Faces and Gaze Aversion in Autism Spectrum Disorder. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 9, 106-117.
[74] Trepagnier, C., Sebrechts, M. M., & Peterson, R. (2002). Atypical Face Gaze in Autism. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 5, 213-217.
[75] Tsatsanis, K. D., Noens, I. L., Illmann, C. L., Pauls, D. L., Volkmar, F. R., Schultz, R. T., & Klin, A. (2011). Managing Complexity: Impact of Organization and Processing Style on Nonverbal Memory in Autism Spectrum Disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 41, 135-147.
[76] van der Geest, J. N., Kemner, C., Verbaten, M. N., & van Engeland, H. (2002). Gaze Behavior of Children with Pervasive Developmental Disorder toward Human Faces: A Fixation Time Study. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 43, 669-678.
[77] Wilson, R., Pascalis, O., & Blades, M. (2007). Familiar Face Recognition in Children with Autism: The Differential Use of Inner and Outer Face Parts. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 37, 314-320.

comments powered by Disqus

Copyright © 2019 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.

Creative Commons License

This work and the related PDF file are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.