, Volume 28, Issue 6, pp 479-485

Children with Autism Fail to Orient to Naturally Occurring Social Stimuli

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Abstract

Children with autism were compared to developmentally matched children with Down syndrome or typical development in terms of their ability to visually orient to two social stimuli (name called, hands clapping) and two nonsocial stimuli (rattle, musical jack-in-the-box), and in terms of their ability to share attention (following another's gaze or point). It was found that, compared to children with Down syndrome or typical development, children with autism more frequently failed to orient to all stimuli, and that this failure was much more extreme for social stimuli. Children with autism who oriented to social stimuli took longer to do so compared to the other two groups of children. Children with autism also exhibited impairments in shared attention. Moreover, for both children with autism and Down syndrome, correlational analyses revealed a relation between shared attention performance and the ability to orient to social stimuli, but no relation between shared attention performance and the ability to orient to nonsocial stimuli. Results suggest that social orienting impairments may contribute to difficulties in shared attention found in autism.