Children with autism spectrum disorder are skilled at reading emotion body language.


Autism is commonly believed to impair the ability to perceive emotions, yet empirical evidence is mixed. Because face processing may be difficult for those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), we developed a novel test of recognizing emotion via static body postures (Body-Emotion test) and evaluated it with children aged 5 to 12years in two studies. In Study 1, 34 children with ASD and 41 typically developing (TD) controls matched for age and verbal intelligence (VIQ [verbal IQ]) were tested on (a) our new Body-Emotion test, (b) a widely used test of emotion recognition using photos of eyes as stimuli (Baron-Cohen et al.’s ‘Reading Mind in the Eyes: Child’ or RMEC [Journal of Developmental and Learning Disorders, 2001, Vol. 5, pp. 47-78]), (c) a well-validated theory of mind (ToM) battery, and (d) a teacher-rated empathy scale. In Study 2 (33 children with ASD and 31 TD controls), the RMEC test was simplified to the six basic human emotions. Results of both studies showed that children with ASD performed as well as their TD peers on the Body-Emotion test. Yet TD children outperformed the ASD group on ToM and on both the standard RMEC test and the simplified version. VIQ was not related to perceiving emotions via either body posture or eyes for either group. However, recognizing emotions from body posture was correlated with ToM, especially for children with ASD. Finally, reading emotions from body posture was easier than reading emotions from eyes for both groups.