Date of Award

Summer 2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Electrical/Computer Engineering

Committee Director

Khan M. Iftekharuddin

Committee Member

Jiang Li

Committee Member

Lee A. Belfore

Committee Member

Michel A. Audette

Committee Member

John W. Harrington


This dissertation proposes novel computational modeling and computer vision methods for the analysis and discovery of differential traits in subjects with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) using video and three-dimensional (3D) images of face and facial expressions. ASD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that impairs an individual’s nonverbal communication skills. This work studies ASD from the pathophysiology of facial expressions which may manifest atypical responses in the face. State-of-the-art psychophysical studies mostly employ naive human raters to visually score atypical facial responses of individuals with ASD, which may be subjective, tedious, and error prone. A few quantitative studies use intrusive sensors on the face of the subjects with ASD, which in turn, may inhibit or bias the natural facial responses of these subjects. This dissertation proposes non-intrusive computer vision methods to alleviate these limitations in the investigation for differential traits from the spontaneous facial responses of individuals with ASD. Two IRB-approved psychophysical studies are performed involving two groups of age-matched subjects: one for subjects diagnosed with ASD and the other for subjects who are typically-developing (TD). The facial responses of the subjects are computed from their facial images using the proposed computational models and then statistically analyzed to infer about the differential traits for the group with ASD. A novel computational model is proposed to represent the large volume of 3D facial data in a small pose-invariant Frenet frame-based feature space. The inherent pose-invariant property of the proposed features alleviates the need for an expensive 3D face registration in the pre-processing step. The proposed modeling framework is not only computationally efficient but also offers competitive performance in 3D face and facial expression recognition tasks when compared with that of the state-of- the-art methods. This computational model is applied in the first experiment to quantify subtle facial muscle response from the geometry of 3D facial data. Results show a statistically significant asymmetry in specific pair of facial muscle activation (p