International Meeting for Autism Research: Gaze/Point Following In Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders In Relation to Communicative Skills: An Eye-Tracking Study

Gaze/Point Following In Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders In Relation to Communicative Skills: An Eye-Tracking Study

Saturday, May 14, 2011
Elizabeth Ballroom E-F and Lirenta Foyer Level 2 (Manchester Grand Hyatt)
11:00 AM
T. Falck-Ytter1, E. Fernell2, C. Gillberg3 and C. von Hofsten4, (1)KIND, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden, (2)Autism Centre for Young Children, Handicap and Habilitation, Stockholm, Sweden, (3)Neurosciences Unit, Institute of Child Health, London, United Kingdom, (4)Dep. of Psychology, Uppsala University, Stockholm, Sweden
Background:  The tendency to follow other people’s non-verbal communicative signals (e.g. gazing/pointing at objects) is thought to be linked to the severity of socio-communicative symptoms in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Using eye-tracking one can accurately evaluate children’s tendency to follow non-verbal communicative cues, and thus test this hypothesis directly.

Objectives:  The objective of the present study was to test the relationship between gaze/point-following and socio-communicative symptom levels in children with ASD, using eye-tracking. We hypothesised that accurate following of non-verbal communicative cues would be specifically linked to the level of adaptive communication skills.

Methods:  Three-to-seven year old children (n = 80) with ASD were tested in a brief eye-tracking experiment (~ 60 sec), watching videos (n = 9) of a model gazing and/or pointing at one out of three toys placed in front of her on a table. The difference between the number of correct gaze shifts (going from the model’s face or pointing hand to the attended toy) and the number of incorrect gaze shifts (gaze shifts to any of the unattended toys) was calculated for each participant. Symptom measures included the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales - Second Edition (VABS-II) and the Autism Behaviour Checklist (ABC).

Results:  We found a significant positive correlation between gaze/point following and the VABS-II communication subscale. This relationship remained significant controlling for the VABS-II socialization subscale, the ABC total score and chronological age, respectively. Moreover, it remained significant controlling for the total number of gaze shifts (to both correct and incorrect targets). Eye-tracking measures accounted for about 30 % of the variance in VABS-II communication scores. Performance was significantly worse in ASD than in an age matched control group.

Conclusions:  We conclude that there is a specific link between the tendency to accurately follow non-verbal communicative cues (gazing and pointing) and adaptive communication symptoms. This finding has theoretical and potential clinical implications.

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