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.
KeywordsResponse to joint attention Autism Reflexive gaze following Word learning
We are very grateful to all of the children and families who participated in our study. We would like to thank Devi Beck-Pancer and Brian Nguyen for their invaluable contributions to stimuli design. We would like to thank the following people for help with data collection and/or coding: Mithi del Rosario, Kia Dela Cruz, Lovella Gomez, Nancy Lê, Jane Lee, Jennifer Nicole Loa, Brigid McCarthy, Christine Park. Connie Kasari provided excellent guidance on study design. This work was supported by National Institutes of Health Grant R01-HD40432 to Scott P. Johnson, NICHD/NIH Autism Centers of Excellence (ACE) Grant Number P50-HD-055784 to Susan Bookheimer, and the FPR-UCLA Center for Culture, Brain and Development. We would also like to thank reviewers for their extremely helpful comments.
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