Atypical Gaze Following in Autism: A Comparison of Three Potential Mechanisms
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In order to evaluate the following potential mechanisms underlying atypical gaze following in autism, impaired reflexive gaze following, difficulty integrating gaze and affect, or reduced understanding of the referential significance of gaze, we administered three paradigms to young children with autism (N = 21) and chronological (N = 21) and nonverbal mental age (N = 21) matched controls. Children with autism exhibited impaired reflexive gaze following. The absence of evidence of integration of gaze and affect, regardless of diagnosis, indicates ineffective measurement of this construct. Reduced gaze following was apparent among children with autism during eye-tracking and in-person assessments. Word learning from gaze cues was better explained by developmental level than autism. Thus, gaze following may traverse an atypical, rather than just delayed, trajectory in autism.