Abstract Both autism spectrum (ASD) and anxiety disorders are associated with atypical neural and attentional responses to emotional faces, differing in affective face processing from typically developing peers. Within a longitudinal study of children with ASD (23 male, 3 female), we hypothesized that early ERPs to emotional faces would predict concurrent and later ASD and anxiety symptoms.

Greater response amplitude to fearful faces corresponded to greater social communication difficulties at age 3, and less improvement by age 14. Faster ERPs to neutral faces predicted greater ASD symptom improvement over time, lower ASD severity in adolescence, and lower anxiety in adolescence. Early individual differences in processing of emotional stimuli likely reflect a unique predictive contribution from social brain circuitry early in life.

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