Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 27, Issue 4, pp 385–396 | Cite as

An Investigation of Attention and Affect in Children with Autism and Down Syndrome

  • Robert M. Joseph
  • Helen Tager-Flusberg


Longitudinal videotape recordings of six young children with autism and six age- and language-matched children with Down syndrome in structured play with their mothers at home were coded for the focus of the child's visual attention for four bimonthly visits and for facial affect for two of the four visits. The main finding was that the children with autism showed reduced expression of positive affect in a familiar social context. The autistic group attended to the mother's face and the researchers only about half as much as the Down syndrome group, but these differences did not reach statistical significance. Compared to the Down syndrome group, the autistic group displayed a smaller proportion of their total positive affect toward the mother's face and toward the researcher, but only the latter group difference reached statistical significance. Although limited by the small sample size, these findings suggest that autistic children's known deficits in attention and affective responsiveness to others persist even in structured interactions with a familiar partner in the home.


Young Child Small Sample Size Small Proportion Social Context Positive Affect 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Adamson, L., & Bakeman, R. (1985). Affect and attention: Infants observed with mothers and peers. Child Development, 56, 582–593.Google Scholar
  2. American Psychiatric Association. (1987). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (3rd ed., rev.). Washington, DC: Author.Google Scholar
  3. Arcus, D., Snidman, N., Campbell, P., Brandzel, S., & Zambrano, I. (1991, March). A program for coding behavior directly from VCR to computer. Biennial Conference of the Society for Research in Child Development, Seattle, WA.Google Scholar
  4. Bakeman, R., & Adamson, I. (1984). Coordinating attention to people and objects in mother-infant and peer-infant interaction. Child Development, 55, 1278–1289.Google Scholar
  5. Berger, J., & Cunningham, C. (1981). The development of eye contact between mothers and normal versus Down's syndrome infants. Developmental Psychology, 17, 678–689.Google Scholar
  6. Bloom, L., Beckwith, R., Capatides, J., & Hafitz, J. (1988). Expression through affect and words in the transition from infancy to language. In P. Baltes, D. Featherman, & R. Lerner (Eds.), Life-span development and behavior. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  7. Dawson, G., & Galpert, L. (1990). Mothers' use of imitative play for facilitating social responsiveness and toy play in young autistic children. Development and Psychopathology, 2, 151–162.Google Scholar
  8. Dawson, G., Hill, D., Spencer, A., Galpert, L., & Watson, L. (1990). Affective exchanges between young autistic children and their mothers. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 18, 335–345.Google Scholar
  9. Feinman, S. (1982). Social referencing in infancy. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 28, 445–470.Google Scholar
  10. Hutt, C., & Ounsted, C. (1966). The biological significance of gaze aversion with particular reference to the syndrome of infantile autism. Behavioral Science, 11, 346–356.Google Scholar
  11. Kanner, L. (1943). Autistic disturbances of affective contact. Nervous Child, 2, 217–250.Google Scholar
  12. Kasari, C., Mundy, P., Yirmiya, N., & Sigman, M. (1990). Affect and attention in children with Down syndrome. American Journal on Mental Retardation, 95, 55–67.Google Scholar
  13. Kasari, C., Sigman, M., Mundy, P., & Yirmiya, N. (1990). Affective sharing in the context of joint attention interactions of normal, autistic, and mentally retarded children. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 20, 87–100.Google Scholar
  14. Kasari, C., Sigman, M., & Yirmiya, N. (1993). Focused and social attention of autistic children in interactions with familiar and unfamiliar adults: A comparison of autistic, mentally retarded, and normal children. Development and Psychopathology, 5, 403–414.Google Scholar
  15. Knapp, M. L. (1980). Essentials of nonverbal communication. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.Google Scholar
  16. Landry, S., & Chapieski, M. (1990). Joint attention of six-month-old Down syndrome and preterm infants: I, Attention to toys and mother. American Journal on Mental Retardation, 94, 488–498.Google Scholar
  17. Leiter, R. (1974). International Performance Scale. In O. Buros (Ed.). Tests in print II: Index to tests, test reviews and the literature on specific tests. Highland Park, NJ: Gryphone.Google Scholar
  18. Mirenda, P. L., Donnellan, A. M., & Yoder, D. E. (1983). Gaze behavior: A new look at an old problem. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 13, 397–409.Google Scholar
  19. Mundy, M., Sigman, R, Ungerer, J., & Sherman, T. (1986). Defining the social deficits of autism: The contribution of non-verbal communication measures. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 27, 657–669.Google Scholar
  20. Richer, J., & Coss, R. (1976). Gaze aversion in autistic and normal children. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 53, 193–210.Google Scholar
  21. Rutter, M. (1978). Diagnosis and definition. In M. Rutter & E. Schopler (Eds.), Autism: A reappraisal of concepts and treatment. New York: Plenum Press.Google Scholar
  22. Sigman, M., Mundy, P., Sherman, T., & Ungerer, J. (1986). Social interactions of autistic, mentally retarded and normal children and their caregivers. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 27, 647–655.Google Scholar
  23. Snow, M., Hertzig, M., & Shapiro, T. (1987). Expression of emotion in young autistic children. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 26, 836–838.Google Scholar
  24. Tager-Flusberg, H., Calkins, S., Nolin, T., Baumberger, T., Anderson, M., & Chadwick-Dias, A. (1990). A longitudinal study of language acquisition in autistic and Down syndrome children. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 20, 1–21.Google Scholar
  25. Trad, P. V, Bernstein, D., Shapiro, T., & Hertzig, M. (1993). Assessing the relationship between affective responsivity and social interaction in children with pervasive developmental disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 23, 361–377.Google Scholar
  26. Tronick, E. (1989). Emotional communication in infants. American Psychologist, 44, 112–119.Google Scholar
  27. Volkmar, F., Hoder, E., & Cohen, D. (1985). Compliance, negativism, and the effects of treatment structure in autism: A naturalistic, behavioral study. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 26, 865–877.Google Scholar
  28. Volkmar, F., & Mayes, L. (1990). Gaze behavior in autism. Development and Psychopathology, 2, 61–69.Google Scholar
  29. Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Winer, B. (1978). Statistical principles in experimental design. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  31. Wing, L. (1976). Diagnosis, clinical description, and prognosis. In L. Wing (Ed.), Early childhood autism. Oxford: Pergamon.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert M. Joseph
    • 1
  • Helen Tager-Flusberg
    • 2
  1. 1.University of Massachusetts atBoston
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Massachusetts—BostonMassachusettsBoston

Personalised recommendations