Increased facial asymmetry in autism spectrum conditions is associated with symptom presentation

Maryam Boutrus*, Syed Zulqarnain Gilani, Gail A. Alvares, Murray T. Maybery, Diana Weiting Tan, Ajmal Mian, Andrew J. O. Whitehouse

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

A key research priority in the study of autism spectrum conditions (ASC) is the discovery of biological markers that may help to identify and elucidate etiologically distinct subgroups. One physical marker that has received increasing research attention is facial structure. Although there remains little consensus in the field, findings relating to greater facial asymmetry (FA) in ASC exhibit some consistency. As there is growing recognition of the importance of replicatory studies in ASC research, the aim of this study was to investigate the replicability of increased FA in autistic children compared to nonautistic peers. Using three-dimensional photogrammetry, this study examined FA in 84 autistic children, 110 typically developing children with no family history of the condition, and 49 full siblings of autistic children. In support of previous literature, significantly greater depth-wise FA was identified in autistic children relative to the two comparison groups. As a further investigation, increased lateral FA in autistic children was found to be associated with greater severity of ASC symptoms on the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, second edition, specifically related to repetitive and restrictive behaviors. These outcomes provide an important and independent replication of increased FA in ASC, as well as a novel contribution to the field. Having confirmed the direction and areas of increased FA in ASC, these findings could motivate a search for potential underlying brain dysmorphogenesis. Autism Res 2019. © 2019 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Lay Summary This study looked at the amount of facial asymmetry (FA) in autistic children compared to typically developing children and children who have siblings with autism. The study found that autistic children, compared to the other two groups, had greater FA, and that increased FA was related to greater severity of autistic symptoms. The face and brain grow together during the earliest stages of development, and so findings of facial differences in autism might inform future studies of early brain differences associated with the condition.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1774-1783
Number of pages10
JournalAutism Research
Volume12
Issue number12
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • autism
  • facial asymmetry
  • morphology
  • subgroups
  • neurodevelopment

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