Don't look now - I'm trying to think

March 7, 2012, Northumbria University

Children with autism look away from faces when thinking, especially about challenging material, according to new research from Northumbria University.

Although generally encouraged to maintain as a means of enhancing their social skills, researchers found follow the same patterns as other when processing complex information or difficult tasks. Typically developing children and adults look away when asked difficult questions and aversion has been proven in the past to improve the accuracy of responses.

Prof Gwyneth Doherty-Sneddon, Associate Dean for Research in the School of Life Sciences at Northumbria University, will present her findings on 15 March as part of Newcastle ScienceFest, a week-long programme of events being held in the city to celebrate scientific endeavour and discovery. The findings will also be reported in next month’s Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

In the first study of its kind, researchers asked 20 children with autism – characterised by reduced sociability - and 18 with William’s Syndrome – associated with hypersociability - to carry out mental arithmetic tests. Both groups engaged in gaze aversion while thinking and increased their gaze aversion as question difficulty increased.

Prof Doherty-Sneddon said: “Previous research found that children and tend to avert their gaze when thinking something through and this principle can now be applied to children with autism too.

“Although social skills training is important in encouraging eye contact with children with , this research demonstrates that gaze aversion, at a certain point within an interaction, is functional in helping them to concentrate on difficult tasks.”

When trying to retrieve information from memory or work out complex problem-solving, looking at someone’s face can actually interfere with the processing of task relevant information. This is, in part, because are such rich sources of information that capture our attention.

She added: “This research will have a major impact in terms of the way teachers interact with these children. When teachers or parents ask a child a difficult question and they look away, our advice would be to wait to allow them to process the information and focus on finding a suitable response.”

Explore further: Facing the facts of autism

More information: Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 53:4 (2012), pp 420–430.

Related Stories

Facing the facts of autism

February 17, 2012
Recognising a person’s face can be challenging at the best of times, yet the task becomes all the more onerous for those with autism.

Earlier autism diagnosis could mean earlier interventions

October 13, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Autism is normally diagnosed between the ages of 2 and 3. But new research is finding symptoms of autism spectrum disorders in babies as young as 12 months. If children could be diagnosed earlier, it might ...

Digital worlds can help autistic children to develop social skills

October 21, 2011
The benefits of virtual worlds can be used to help autistic children develop social skills beyond their anticipated levels, suggest early findings from new research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). ...

Augmented play helps autism

February 23, 2012
Playing with interactive toys could help children with autism to improve their social interaction with other children, say University of Sussex psychologists.

Eyes are windows to more than a child's soul

September 1, 2011
Nearly 80 percent of what children learn during their first 12 years is through their vision. Though vision problems may seem easy to identify, they actually can be difficult for parents to discern. Still, parents need to ...

Recommended for you

Nearly imperceptible fluctuations in movement correspond to autism diagnoses

January 17, 2018
A new study led by researchers at Indiana University and Rutgers University provides the strongest evidence yet that nearly imperceptible changes in how people move can be used to diagnose neurodevelopmental disorders, including ...

Epigenetics study helps focus search for autism risk factors

January 16, 2018
Scientists have long tried to pin down the causes of autism spectrum disorder. Recent studies have expanded the search for genetic links from identifying genes toward epigenetics, the study of factors that control gene expression ...

Being bilingual may help autistic children

January 16, 2018
Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) often have a hard time switching gears from one task to another. But being bilingual may actually make it a bit easier for them to do so, according to a new study which was recently ...

No rise in autism in US in past three years: study

January 2, 2018
After more than a decade of steady increases in the rate of children diagnosed with autism in the United States, the rate has plateaued in the past three years, researchers said Tuesday.

Autism therapy: Brain stimulation restores social behavior in mice

December 13, 2017
Scientists are examining the feasibility of treating autistic children with neuromodulation after a new study showed social impairments can be corrected by brain stimulation.

Social phobia linked to autism and schizophrenia

December 11, 2017
New Swinburne research shows that people who find social situations difficult tend to have similar brain responses to those with schizophrenia or autism.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.