Looking But Not Seeing: Atypical Visual Scanning and Recognition of Faces in 2 and 4-Year-Old Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • Katarzyna ChawarskaEmail author
  • Frederick Shic
Original Paper


This study used eye-tracking to examine visual scanning and recognition of faces by 2- and 4-year-old children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) (N = 44) and typically developing (TD) controls (N = 30). TD toddlers at both age levels scanned and recognized faces similarly. Toddlers with ASD looked increasingly away from faces with age, atypically attended to key features of faces, and were impaired in face recognition. Deficits in recognition were associated with imbalanced attention between key facial features. This study illustrates that face processing in ASD may be affected early and become further compromised with age. We propose that deficits in face processing likely impact the effectiveness of toddlers with ASD as social partners and thus should be targeted for intervention.


Autism ASD Face scanning Face recognition Toddlers 



The study was supported by the NAAR foundation (to KC), NIMH grant T32 MH18268 (to FS), and NIMH STAART grant U54 MH66494 (to KC). We would like to thank Jessica Bradshaw for her work in preparation of this data for analysis; Fred Volkmar, Ami Klin, and Suzanne Macari for helpful suggestions on earlier versions of the manuscript; and Celine Saulnier for her contribution to sample characterization. We wish to express our deep appreciation to the children and families who participated in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Child Study CenterYale University School of MedicineNew HavenUSA

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