Objectives: To use a preferential-looking motion task to investigate whether children with autism prefer to direct their gaze to social or non-social stimuli when both stimuli are presented simultaneously.
Methods: Current study employs children with autism and TD children (4-7 years old). Children were presented with brief video sequences of point-light displays depicting human walking and spinning top,presented side-by-side. Children were asked to look at the screen, thus task demand was minimal. Eye direction was recorded using specially designed software. Duration of gaze and first eye-movement at each stimulus was analysed.
Results: Preliminary data suggest that TD children make the majority of their first eye-movements into the image containing a person and that they spend much longer time looking at this image. In contrast, approximately 90% of children with autism directed their first gaze at non-social stimuli and made fewer spontaneous fixations on the image containing a walker.
Conclusions: Children with autism demonstrate abnormal patterns of social visual pursuit consistent with previous studies that reported atypical responses to social stimuli such as faces. These results do support the notion that children with autism have a specific problem in processing socially loaded visual stimuli.