How much interest do autistic people have in social information?


According to the Society for Neuroscience annual meting in San Diego this year, autistic children are fixed on their own interests that they don’t pay mind on social information. In other words, children with autism fail to develop social skills because they are not interested in “social things”.

However, Kathryn Unruh, a graduate student in James Bodfish’s lab at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, who presented the results says that “Social motivation theory is very popular. But it doesn’t really address what these kids are doing — just what they’re not doing.”
The researchers showed pairs of images – a face and an object on the screen, to 33 adults with autism and 32 regular people. Then, they used eye-tracking technology to learn when and for how long they stared at each image in a pair. There were different objects on the images: furniture, an airplane, a pair of gloves, a piano, etc. Those individuals who had autism stared at the objects for a longer period of time and they spent less time looking at the facial expressions, unlike regular people.

The researchers are going to use the results and method for testing younger children with autism. Early intervention may help to change the situation with the social information acceptance and impede social skills development in children who have autism. Some autism therapies can reinforce the restricted interests as rewards for good behavior. But this strategy can lead to an opposite negative effect, because leveraging non-social behavior; we do not treat the “root of the problem”. That’s why therapies should be built on developing social engaging and increasing interest in social information.

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