According to previous studies on cued attention, toddlers with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) exhibit problems in holding attention to faces by showing faster attentional disengagement from faces compared to developmentally delayed or typically developing toddlers (Chawarska, Volkmar & Klin, 2010). However, it is not clear what kind of a role direct gaze plays in this attention disengagement from faces in young children with or without autism. Also, it is not known how positive social feedback, e.g., gaze contingent smiling, affects attentional re-engagement to face stimuli.
The objectives of this study were to investigate if young children with ASD exhibit problems in holding attention to faces with direct gaze, and to investigate how social nonverbal feedback affects attentional re-engagement to faces.
In this study, typically developing preschoolers and preschoolers with autism were shown a centrally presented neutral face with direct gaze or downcast gaze or a toy, followed by a distracter stimulus presented either to the left or right. Participants’ eye movements were recorded by an eye tracker. When the participant re-engaged the face stimulus after detecting the distracter stimulus, the expression on the stimulus face changed into a smile (participant’s gaze contingent smile) or the toy started to move.
Preliminary results of the eye tracking analysis (latency of disengagement and re-engagement, and probability of re-engagement to the central face) will be presented.
The preliminary findings will be discussed in relation to current theories of gaze behavior difficulties in ASD.