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Social-Emotional Inhibition of Return in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder Versus Typical Development

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In typical development there is a bias to orient visual attention to social information. Children with ASD do not reliably demonstrate this bias, and the role of attention orienting has not been well studied. We examined attention orienting via the inhibition of return (IOR) mechanism in a spatial cueing task using social-emotional cues; we studied 8- to 17-year-old children with ASD (n = 41) and typically developing controls (TDC) (n = 25). The ASD group exhibited a significantly stronger IOR effect than the TDC group, and the IOR effect correlated positively with social impairments but was unrelated to co-occurring ADHD or anxiety symptoms. The results provide evidence of an early altered attention mechanism that is associated with to core social deficits in ASD.

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We thank the many children and families for their participation in the study. We thank Lisa Guy and Olivia Hsin for additional clinical support, and the Center for Autism Research Faculty and Staff for feedback on earlier drafts. The study was sponsored by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health (K23MH086111; PI: B.E. Yerys, R21MH092615; PI: B.E. Yerys, RC1MH088791; R.T. Schultz), and a New Program Development Award to B.E. Yerys through the Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center funded by the National Institute of Child and Human Development (P30HD026979; PI: M. Yudkoff), a grant from the Philadelphia Foundation, a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Health (SAP #4100042728) to R.T. Schultz, a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Health (SAP # 4100047863) to R.T. Schultz, a grant from Pfizer to R.T. Schultz, and a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, #6672 to R.T. Schultz.

Author Contributions

B.E.Y. conceived the study. B.E.Y. and V.T. programmed the experiment and generated the stimuli. M.G.M. and L.A. recruited, enrolled, and completed the experimental measures. B.E.Y. conducted or supervised almost all clinical evaluations. L.A. completed all data analyses. L.A., M.G.M., V.T., and B.E.Y contributed to manuscript preparation.

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Correspondence to Benjamin E. Yerys.

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Antezana, L., Mosner, M.G., Troiani, V. et al. Social-Emotional Inhibition of Return in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder Versus Typical Development. J Autism Dev Disord 46, 1236–1246 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-015-2661-9

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  • Visual attention
  • Orienting
  • Inhibition of return
  • Children
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Comorbidities