Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 46, Issue 4, pp 1319–1333 | Cite as

Eye Tracking Reveals Impaired Attentional Disengagement Associated with Sensory Response Patterns in Children with Autism

  • Maura Sabatos-DeVito
  • Sarah E. Schipul
  • John C. Bulluck
  • Aysenil Belger
  • Grace T. Baranek
Original Paper


This study used a gap-overlap paradigm to examine the impact of distractor salience and temporal overlap on the ability to disengage and orient attention in 50 children (4–13 years) with ASD, DD and TD, and associations between attention and sensory response patterns. Results revealed impaired disengagement and orienting accuracy in ASD. Disengagement was impaired across all groups during temporal overlap for dynamic stimuli compared to static, but only ASD showed slower disengagement from multimodal relative to unimodal dynamic stimuli. Attentional disengagement had differential associations with distinct sensory response patterns in ASD and DD. Atypical sensory processing and temporal binding appear to be intertwined with development of disengagement in ASD, but longitudinal studies are needed to unravel causal pathways.


Autism spectrum disorder Sensory processing Eye-tracking Attention Multisensory integration Hypo-/hyper-responsiveness 



This research was supported in part by several grants from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute for Child Health and Human Development including R01-HD42168 (to G.T.B.), T32-HD40127 (post-doc support for S.E.S.), T32-HD07376 (post-doc support for M.S.D) and P30-HD03110 (core support for participant recruitment through the North Carolina Autism Research Registry), as well as a training grant 325D070011 from the Office of Special Education Programs at the U.S. Department of Education (doctoral support for M.S.D.), and a pilot grant from the North Carolina Translational and Clinical Sciences Institute (NC TraCS), funded by the National Institutes of Health 1UL1TR001111. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the funding agencies. We appreciate the statistical support of Chris Wiesen at the Odum Institute. We also appreciate the consultation of Jed Elison, Ph.D., and the staff who collected the data, especially Rebecca Stephens and Margaret O’Brien. We thank the families whose participation made this study possible.

Author contributions

MSD and GTB initiated the idea for and design of the study, and secured funding through grants. MSD, JCB, and GTB developed the stimuli and task parameters. JCB programmed the stimuli and parameters into Tobii. MSD piloted and collected data, and tracked participants with help from research assistants. JCB extracted raw data and wrote programs to clean the data. SES conducted data management and statistical analyses in consultation with statisticians and co-authors. GTB and AB consulted on design and analyses throughout the study. All five authors contributed to the interpretation of the analysis, writing of the manuscript, and all authors read/approved the final manuscript.

Supplementary material

10803_2015_2681_MOESM1_ESM.xlsx (62 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (XLSX 62 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Maura Sabatos-DeVito
    • 1
    • 6
  • Sarah E. Schipul
    • 2
    • 3
  • John C. Bulluck
    • 4
  • Aysenil Belger
    • 2
    • 3
    • 5
  • Grace T. Baranek
    • 3
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel HillUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel HillUSA
  3. 3.Carolina Institute for Developmental DisabilitiesUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel HillUSA
  4. 4.Department of Allied Health SciencesUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel HillUSA
  5. 5.Duke-UNC Brain Imaging and Analysis CenterDurhamUSA
  6. 6.Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral SciencesDuke University Medical CenterDurhamUSA

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