"Face blindness" & autism?


Active Member
Something for you to think about - a science TV show this evening was talking about "face blindness". They were discussing this as something distinct to autism, although like a lot of things (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Sensory Integration Disorder (SID)) you can get it in autism too.
While some people have face blindness in totality, they said on this show that about 1 in 100 have this at least in part and it could also have a genetic component. I got difficult child 3 in to watch this with me, easy child 2/difficult child 2 wandered past and got caught up in it as well. She reckons she has a significant degree of it. There are two main facets to it - one is inability to recognise faces you've already known before (such as famous faces, but with hair missing so as to only get cues from the face) and the second component, being able to distinguish differences between one face & another.
They did a simple test on the TV and difficult child 3 could easily distinguish differences between two faces, but he scored zero on recognising famous faces. Even a really obvious one like Ian Thorpe - very distinctive grin & chin. He also had no idea, no recognition of Cate Blanchett. I know he should know these, especially "Thorpie" or "Thorpedo" because of how he swims (feet like flippers).
easy child 2/difficult child 2 had trouble with both. She's already been aware of this and has worked out ways of getting around it in her job, where she has to be able to recognise something familiar about a customer in case they lose something and come back to claim it, for example.

Yesterday when the Scottish cousins visited, they were brought by husband's cross-cousin who lives on the other side of Sydney. She & her husband drove the young lads over to our village. Neither difficult child 3 nor easy child 2/difficult child 2 recognised the cousin or her husband, even though they last visited at Christmas, for a long visit when we were all together, plus they visit fairly frequently. Plus, the husband especially has a VERY distinctive face, especially his eyes and nose. Yet neither of the kids recognised him. difficult child 3 even introduced himself as if to a stranger, because he thought the husband (aged 60-ish) was one of the Scottish cousins (aged 23). The older man is very dark, going grey, the young cousins are redheads.
Apparently, inability to recognise faces to a significant degree can lead to a diagnosis of autism due to these kids avoiding eye contact, avoiding playing with other kids and being withdrawn in a group, because they just don't recognise the others. They talked about one little girl with an autism diagnosis who they later realised just had a problem with facial recognition (due to a problem in the right temporal lobe, where facial recognition happens). This little girl's mother realised what was wrong, when she went to check on her daughter after just having come out of the shower after washing her hair (the mother's hair). The little girl had not seen her mother take a shower; all she saw was the appearance of a woman with darker hair, pulled back severely, instead of the usual paler, fluffier (dry) hair. The little girl screamed, because this apparently strange woman was talking to her like she knew her.

Further assessment of the little girl showed that unlike normal, when shown a photo of a face this little girl's eye contact roamed all over the place, instead of concentrating round the eyes and nose. because she is so young, they've been trialling retraining and she is now doing a lot better at actually looking at the part of the face she needs to, to trigger face recognition.

So, for those of you with a Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) child (or suspected Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD)) or if you just have your suspicions, look up face recognition or face blindness and see what information you can find.

The TV show I was watching was on ABC TV's "Catalyst" show, tonight (19 July 2007). ABC in Australia is our national TV free-to-air broadcast channel, nationwide. Commercial-free, apart from self-promotion between programs.

Interesting, no?



Well-Known Member
I have face blindness. It can be really embarassing. People say "hi" to me all the time and I fake it and have no idea who I'm talking to unless they give me a clue. Sometimes it's the person who lives next door to me...lol. I can recognize my family and very close friends (most of the time). I was told it's common in Aspergers/autism, but nobody will say I have Aspergers. I do have an indisputable NonVerbal Learning Disorder (NVLD) (verbal IQ about 120/performance 85). I'll bet most people with this problem don't have a total inability to recall, but mine is pretty bad and has caused some really uncomfortable moments. Just one of my many "soft neurological symptoms" lol. There is a GREAT site on face blindness, which is called something like Proposania (somebody who knows the exact term please correct me). If you put "face blindness" into your search engine, this site will come up. It's a fantastic site.


New Member
Both my son (High-Functioning Autism (HFA)) and my mom (never diagnosed with anything but has lots of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) traits and hyperlexia) both have pretty severe face-blindness. My mom tells me, in fact, that when she was growing up, one of her friends was missing an ear, but she never noticed (for more than 10 years) until someone mentioned it. And this was a male friend, in the days of crew-cuts... My son can't recognize his teachers when they change their hair styles or hair color. And I think I've got a bit of this trait--I can easily identify people if they are where I am used to seeing them, but if I run into a teacher at the store, or someone who works at my office in the park, I have to struggle to figure out who they are (although I know that I know them from somewhere).
I have never heard of this before!

I have this to an extent (and never knew it was a thing to have) but have always been able to compensate with mnemonics. "Brian has the blue car, Randy has red hair" or something like that.

Well I'll be dipped.


I'm like Eleanor in that if you take someone out of the environment I'm used to seeing them in, I don't recognize them (for example I didn't recognize my neighbor in front of my house because I'm used to seeing him in front of his house). They may not even look familiar at all, unless I've seen them recently or have seen them often.


New Member
Our difficult child is like that - people are constantly saying "Hi difficult child" to him in stores, etc., and he will say "who are you", etc. Sometimes I know who they are and sometimes I don't. He never knows anyone if he hasn't seen them everyday. And, he totally doesn't know the person if they are out of their usual element.

He never used to be able to tell me at all what someone looked like when he was younger. I bought him the "Guess Who" game - where each person has a character card and you have to ask the other questions about their characters physical characteristics - ie 'does your person have white hair', etc. His descriptions have gotten better, but he still has no recognition skills.

easy child also has a hard time describing anyone to me. She and I have been playing "Guess Who" each weekend for the past few weeks!

Amazing - I had also never heard of this, but I am going to look into it some more!! Thanks for posting this!


Active Member
Marg's Man here...

A couple of you have things like ...
"common in Aspergers/autism"
"nobody will say... Aspergers"
[my edits].

The programme made it clear that, while face blindness IS a common feature of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), you CAN have face blindness without being on the spectrum. The opposite applies also.

Marg and I have come to the conclusion that I definitely show Apsie traits but face blindness is definitely NOT one of them. Quite the opposite - I can recognise just about every face that I have ever seen before. Useful in the security aspects of my job which requires me to challenge people who are where they shouldn't be; but ask me to remember that person's name? Forget it!

You can get a full transcript of the programme at:

They will probably be uploading video stream at some time soon as well.

Marg's Man

Sara PA

New Member
I have it!

I don't have it too bad but once I saw myself in a mirror at a restaurant and didn't recognized myself. I didn't realize I was looking in a mirror but I didn't even think "Oh, that woman looks like me." Mostly I don't recognize people when I first see them in a different environment than I'm use to seeing them.

There was an article in the Wall Street Journal about it within the past two weeks, IIRC. Unfortunately, the WSJ is a subscription site. It told the story of a little boy who asked his mother "Are you my mommy?" when she picked him up at preschool. The article also said that people with the problem often recognize people based on clues, often hair style. After I read that I realized it was true for me.

A CNN article on it.


Active Member
MWM - after I posted this last night I did some digging, I think I found the site you did. It's really good, I'm going to register and do the test, get the kids to do it too.

Playing "Guess Who" was really good for difficult child 3, and may be why he's actually not bad at the "this face is different to/the same as that face" part of the quiz they showed on the TV.

And I've been wondering about me, too. Like husband I'm also fairly lousy with names, but there are some aspects of facial differences that I don't notice. And some I do. For example, with husband's cross-cousin's husband, his features are SO distinctive that when they had a badly malformed baby about 20 years ago, so his facial features were badly distorted (poor darling) I could still see that apart from that, he resembled his father. (The baby had associated severe brain development/breathing problems and died at about 10 months of age). And yet, I don't notice someone's colour, unless it is REALLY distinctive. For example, I'll notice someone with albino-white skin, or someone so dark that light just seems to disappear near their face, but otherwise everyone looks much the same colour to me. I wonder if it's because my mother was dark and so am I - dark in "white" terms, but the lovely Maori couple we spent time with in New Zealand - she was the same colour as my mother. So maybe it's NOT an indicative of my noble acceptance of people of all colours (yeah, right) - maybe it's just something my brain can't see unless it's really distinctive.
We had a boy stay with us - he was about 10, he would be a man well and truly now - from Philadelphia. A terrific kid - bit of a handful, but what 10 year old boy isn't? But he was one of the darkest people I've ever seen - as dark as Burnam Burnam, an amazing Aboriginal man who lived in our area, well-known in Australia as going to Britain for our bicentenary and claiming Britain for the Aboriginal nations under "terra nullius". Very cheeky, since that is how Australia was claimed.
I remember this Philly kid, walking along holding his hand and seeing a hand darker than mine, clasped within it. I wasn't used to it, it was unusual.
The only other skin as dark as that - when easy child was a baby in the child care centre where I worked at the time, there was at same age as easy child in the same nursery, the son of a uni lecturer from Uganda. easy child was so pale, and with this Uganda baby lying next to her on the play mats it was an amazing contrast. They were a week apart in age, but he was so quiet compared to my hellion! Probably just as bright though, considering his parents. easy child and the boy from Uganda played together until he was 2, and his parents went back home. I've often worried and prayed they have stayed safe.

But otherwise, I really don't see colour unless I make an effort to look at it and even then I have trouble mentally 'defining' it.
Weird. And now there could be an explanation!