Autistic Spectrum folks and 'face reading'


Crazy Cat Lady
As a lot of folks know, I'm a writer. My poor characters, being at the mercy of the story line (e.g. me...aka...the ruler of their world), have found themselves in an intensely emotional situation.

Now, when writing you have just words on paper so have to describe facial expressions and what not in order to give dialogue and situations meaning. So, I found myself going, "uh...what does someone look like when really frightened, or really angry, or really tense?"

I started roaming the web and the library looking for photographs of people with captions and articles. I'd take a little notebook, look at the photos, write down what I thought the people were feeling along with a physical description of their expressions (in detail), and then read the accompanying text to see if I'd got it right.

A lot of the time I DIDN'T which was rather unnerving...but a couple of weeks of this has led to me getting it right more often than not, AND it has led to me studying people around me and trying to interpret their expressions. I do read body language well, just not faces. It's kind of fun.

But, while I don't expect kids to do the kind of research I'm doing, I do wonder if there isn't some sort of equivalent where one couldn't work with the kids: show them a relaxed face. Show them an 'emotional' face--have them note the differences and try to figure out what the person is feeling, and then verify it?

It's teaching me to look for really little things I never noticed before: wrinkling around the eyes, tension or relaxation around the lips, pupil dilation, all sorts of things. I even managed to avert a confrontation today in the grocery store (over places in line of all things) by picking up on the woman's facial expression. I wasn't quite sure if she was angry or afraid--actually I think it was a mix of both, but I was able to see that my pushing the issue would lead to her reacting in a negative manner, and figure out how to back off gracefully.

It's also helping a lot with proper eye contact as I was trained to make eye contact, but I tend instead to STARE fixedly at people's eyeballs when I'm talking to them, which makes them nervous. Now I'm learning how to read the start of that and sort of flick my eyes away and back. People are a bit more comfy with me now.

I seems to me something useful. Maybe someone could come up with a book or something of facial expressions kids to learn this?

I was VERY surprised at how bad I was/am at this--especially when it comes to reading mixed emotions because I thought I was pretty good at it. I'm seeing so much more in people now than I did before.

toK (next step...standing in front of mirror and trying to figure out how to make MY face show my moods...beyond the twitching muscle in jaw that means I'm ready to throttle something)
lol toK,
If you do find a book like that, Please let me know. I think my whole family needs it, me included. The mirror part too! :Bonkers:

Yes, I really think it would help.


Active Member

There are materials out there that teach this sort of thing. Here is one example of a software program to teach facial expressions, .

Attwood's site has a lot of resources listed, . Click on "Books and Resources on Emotions" on the left.

My difficult child has no interest in learning to fit into the NT world. He feels he is just fine the way he is. I do have this sort of thing written into his IEP so the school will work with him. He will not let me help him. I admire your willingness to learn, Kat.



Well-Known Member
It's funny you posted this. My husband started "training" difficult child to draw different expressions on faces. Happy Sad Angry Scared Manic: , etc. I make a point of having her look at my face to see my expression. She's not been diagnosis'd with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) but the psychologist said it was a possibility.


Have to tell you that my BiPolar (BP) kid had to be taught this too... he just didn't care enough about others to notice. His group home had a poster, as do some therapists I've seen, of about 25 facial expressions with the name of the emotion underneath it.

I think you're talking about something like charades. There's a game called Moods which is something similar to what you're looking for.


Well-Known Member
Not sure if this is the same, but my difficult child can not read anyone. Especially little kids. She never could tell that they wanted her to put them down. Well, still can't.

She can not see someone getting angry and then questions why they are angry!


Active Member
We Homeschool and in our classroom, on the wall, is a sheet of paper with different faces, different expressions on those faces, and an explanation of each expression.

I have had it for years, can't remember where I got it but it was a good teaching tool when difficult child was it just gets totally ignored. :Bonkers: Course he's mastered all the negative faces...keep hoping he will work on the positive ones.. :rolleyes:

Good luck with your writing...can't wait to read your book...


Active Member
We used to play a game with difficult child 3 - he had to copy the facial expressions we showed him (and named). we started with simple expressions such as "scared"; "angry"; "happy".

It's a game where you have to click and drag facial features to a blank face to match a named expression. There are other good games and social skills lessons. It can take some time but it was worth the explore.

Good luck!


Crazy Cat Lady
Alisha--THANK YOU!! Simplistic as that site is, being able to manipulate the different facial features seperately really helped as I have huge problems seeing an entire face--if I focus on one bit I can't see the rest of it.

Actually, in terms of the 'quest for knowledge' thing, a lot of that started after I came here. It forced me to start THINKING about WHY I have problems with social interactions instead of just writing off to my being 'wierd'. And, once I started thinking about it I was able to see where the problems existed which gave me something to 'fix'.

I think, unlike the OP with the BiPolar (BP) child, in my case I always wanted to 'fit in' better and to be liked and really couldn't understand why I wasn't. I suppose its still lacking empathy from the standpoint of not getting how others feel, but in the case of a lot of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) folks, we really DO CARE, we just don't 'get it'.

I did get that bit of writing drafted--was like pulling barbed wire out of*navel*, but its on 'paper' and I have put it aside to re-read tomorrow to see if it makes sense and works. Problem was that I was describing the sort of interaction that would have had ME heading for the hills immediately and I'm too nasty a "ruler of the world" to let the characters get away with avoidance so...<eg>

Even if I never get the thing published (and I do not have my hopes up) its certainly been a learning experience


Well-Known Member
This is part of the "social skills" my son gets at school. He can read "happy" or "sad" but has no clue about more subtle emotions.


Crazy Cat Lady
Midwest Mom, your son and the others are very lucky. I'm in my mid-40's and from a family where most of us are Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) (picture 3 generations at U-Chi for an evaluation at the same time--the experts there were all but turning carthwheels, LoL)

I was lucky in that my mom mostly knew how to raise me, unlucky in that there were no such things as 'interventions' for kids like me in those days. The only autism recognized was the very severe classical form (and even that was often attributed to poor parenting!)

Instead, I was routed into Access for Excellence's "Brilliant and Gifted" program along with a few other very socially inept, very intelligent children. From the standpoint of my being very well educated (attended high-school and college classes in grade school)it was great. But, from the standpoint of social skills...eeehhhh...I was one of six kids in my class group and I swear all of us were somewhere on the spectrum. Better yet, I was the only female. And I never got any help with executive functioning (and is THAT an issue) or any of the other things. Sort of figured a lot of it out on my own. First inkling I had about a lot of it was reading Temple Grandin's writings even though my issues impact me differently than hers impact her.

Wish I had help with EF--I had to figure out on my own how to break things down into lists of 'steps' and handle each step as a seperate task. Otherwise I got stuck in the beginning or middle.

If we could combine today's social training with the sort of educational opportunities I't that be great?


Active Member
The BBC's website has a fun interactive program called "Spot the Fake Smile" BBC Website that difficult child and I both did. Amazingly, he did better at it than I did! I found it was a useful tool for him. It doesn't provide the range of emotions - but it does help with detecting nuances.

Fran and Ephchap, there seem to be lots of good resources here - any chance of archiving this?


New Member
Kat, it's also fun to watch soap operas with the sound turned off. Bam needed some coaching in this skill, but Pebbles is a natural.

What totally boggles my mind is how you could figure out that a borderline was stalking you on the internet. How were you able to see through all that emotion?


Crazy Cat Lady
Pigless, regarding the borderline. *I* didn't figure it out. I was warned privately by someone who knew the individual in question and then shocked the bejabbers out of my shrink by asking to see the DSM on Borderline (BPD). Once I read through that and another article she had on it, I could clearly see just how badly my chain had been yanked (and in many directions all at once). My shrink prescribed 'borderline avoidance' for me on the grounds that 'they are very unhealthy for you, dear'

Creepy thing, though...she had me scrambling like crazy trying to fix whatever it was I'd done 'wrong', except there was no way to do it 'right'.

Don't get me wrong, Borderline (BPD) has got to be an awful disorder for the sufferer--I cannot imagine being in that kind of emotional turmoil all the time, nor just flat out being unable to be happy--ever, but in all honesty...I can't deal with it at all.

It's one thing I can pick up...the...I don't it 'flipping'?

Soap operas?? Gods, the only way I could tolerate them would be with the sound off. Last soap opera I actually watched and enjoyed was 'Dark Shadows' (at the babysitters...mum would've had a litter of kittens if she'd known, LoL)

Good lord did I just date myself, hunh?



Well-Known Member
It's strange that you use Borderline (BPD) and soap operas in the same post. I wouldn't be surprised to find out my sister-in-law has Borderline (BPD), and she stars in a soap opera of her own making!


New Member
Given where you live, Kat, I would not be surprised if your Borderline (BPD) stalker was MY sister! I have not spoken with her in almost 10 years. She was, last I heard, about the only white person living in Cabrini Green Houses.