Objectives: The goal of the current project is to (1) assess the sensitivity of infants with ASD to audiovisual synchrony, a specific physical contingency, and (2) measure the effect of biasing social context on the perception of audiovisual synchrony in infants with ASD.
Methods: 12-24 month-old infants with ASD, typically-developing (TD) infants, and non-autistic development-delayed (DD) infants were eye-tracked while presented with a series of preferential viewing experiments. The first series of experiments tested baseline sensitivities to audiovisual synchrony. The second series of experiments tested how sensitivities to audiovisual synchrony were altered when biasing social contexts (faces and human speech) were introduced.
Results: Preliminary results show that infants with autism are as sensitive as their peers to the perception of audiovisual synchrony. However, audiovisual synchrony detection in infants with autism is less influenced by accompanying social context: while the introduction of biasing social context altered the preferential viewing patterns of TD and DD controls, the change in contextual information did not alter the viewing patterns of the infants with ASD.
Conclusions: The present study suggests that, although infants with autism are capable of integrating auditory and visual information when perceiving physical contingencies, their ability to perceive social contingencies may be impaired. Closer examination of the neurobiological mechanisms underlying perception of audiovisual synchrony may further efforts at early diagnosis and treatment of autism.