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J Autism Dev Disord. 2014 Oct;44(10):2584-92. doi: 10.1007/s10803-014-2130-x.

How do typically developing deaf children and deaf children with autism spectrum disorder use the face when comprehending emotional facial expressions in British sign language?

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Division of Psychology and Language Science, Department of Developmental Science, University College London, London, UK,


Facial expressions in sign language carry a variety of communicative features. While emotion can modulate a spoken utterance through changes in intonation, duration and intensity, in sign language specific facial expressions presented concurrently with a manual sign perform this function. When deaf adult signers cannot see facial features, their ability to judge emotion in a signed utterance is impaired (Reilly et al. in Sign Lang Stud 75:113-118, 1992). We examined the role of the face in the comprehension of emotion in sign language in a group of typically developing (TD) deaf children and in a group of deaf children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). We replicated Reilly et al.'s (Sign Lang Stud 75:113-118, 1992) adult results in the TD deaf signing children, confirming the importance of the face in understanding emotion in sign language. The ASD group performed more poorly on the emotion recognition task than the TD children. The deaf children with ASD showed a deficit in emotion recognition during sign language processing analogous to the deficit in vocal emotion recognition that has been observed in hearing children with ASD.

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