Eye-tracking reveals variability in successful social strategies for children with autism

In a study published in the March 2012 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Katherine Rice and colleagues, from the Marcus Autism Center, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, and Emory University School of Medicine, used eye-tracking technology to measure the relationship between cognitive and social disability in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and the ability of children with ASD to pay attention to social interactions.

The study is the largest to date to observe children with watching scenes of ; 135 children, 109 with ASD and 26 without, all approximately 10 years old, participated. The children were shown movie scenes of school-age children in age-appropriate social situations. One set of analyses focused on the differences between children with ASD and typically-developing children, by closely matching a subset of those with ASD to typically-developing peers on IQ, gender, and age. A second set of analyses focused on measures that quantify the of adaptive and maladaptive behavior in ASD by analyzing variation across all 109 ASD participants.

Results indicated that children with ASD were less likely than typically-developing peers to look at other people's eyes and faces, and were more likely to fixate on bodies and inanimate objects. The results also revealed the varying ways in which children with ASD use the information they observe. For the entire group of children with ASD, increased observation of inanimate objects rather than people was associated with more severe social disability. However, for some subsets of the autism spectrum, such as highly verbal children with ASD, whose verbal IQs were larger than their nonverbal IQs, increased looking at others people's mouths was associated with less disability.

"These results help us tease apart some of the vast heterogeneity of the autism spectrum," said Rice. "For some children, atypical looking patterns may be serving as a compensatory strategy; but for others, these patterns are clearly associated with maladaptive behaviors. Objective, quantitative measures of social disability help us to identify these subsets in a data-driven manner."

More information: The article "Parsing Heterogeneity in Autism Spectrum Disorders: Visual Scanning of Dynamic Social Scenes in School-Aged Children" by Katherine Rice, Jennifer M. Moriuchi, Warren Jones, Ami Klin, (doi:10.1016/j.jaac.2011.12.017) appears in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Volume 51, Issue 3 (March 2012)

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Brain scans detect autism's signature

Nov 15, 2010

An autism study by Yale School of Medicine researchers using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has identified a pattern of brain activity that may characterize the genetic vulnerability to developing autism spectrum ...

Recommended for you

Planning a better future for people with autism

Aug 27, 2014

In the world of special education, transition is the move from school to adult life. For most of us that move can be awkward, but for people with disabilities—particularly autism—it is especially complex.

Are three brain imaging techniques better than one?

Aug 22, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—Many recent imaging studies have shown that in children with autism, different parts of the brain do not connect with each other in typical ways. Initially, most researchers thought that ...

Adults with autism at higher risk of sexual victimization

Aug 14, 2014

Adults with autism are at a higher risk of sexual victimization than adults without, due to lack of sex education, but with improved interventions that focus on sexual knowledge and skill building, the risk could be reduced, ...

Autism rates steady for two decades

Aug 14, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—A University of Queensland study has found no evidence of an increase in autism in the past 20 years, countering reports that the rates of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are on the rise.

User comments