Children with Autism Choose Inanimate Objects Over Faces

A new study using eye-tracking technology has provided insights into the way children with autism observe social interaction.

Researchers tracked eye movements as the children were shown movie scenes of school-age children in age-appropriate social situations.

Investigators discovered children with autism 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 autism use the information they observe. The more the children with ASDs observed inanimate objects, the more severe their social disability.

Katherine Rice and colleagues have published the study in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. One hundred thirty-five children, 109 with autism and 26 without, all approximately 10 years old, participated in the study.

Researchers say the results will help service provides have a better picture of the capability of a particular child.

“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.”

Similar eye-tracking technology was used in a different study with impacts on autism diagnosis which identified where babies look while learning to speak.