By age 3, children diagnosed with autism have already begun a retreat into social isolation. Psychologist Geraldine Dawson of the University of Washington in Seattle and her coworkers have found that the children's brain-wave activity indicates an inability even to distinguish their own mothers' faces from those of strangers.
In social situations, these children focus on other peoples' mouths rather than their eyes, Dawson theorizes. As a result, she says, the development of the brain's face-recognition system (SN: 5/18/02, p. 307: Baby Facial: Infants monkey with face recognition) gets derailed.
Autism typically isn't diagnosed until at least age 3. The condition includes severe difficulties in interacting and communicating with others.