Autism Journal Club

Visual social attention in autism spectrum disorder: Insights from eye tracking studies

We review different aspects of visual social attention in autism spectrum disorders (ASD) from infancy to adulthood in light of the eye-tracking literature. We first assess the assumption that individuals with ASD demonstrate a deficit in social orienting together with decreased attention to socially relevant stimuli such as faces compared to TD individuals. Results show that social orienting is actually not qualitatively impaired and that decreased attention to faces does not generalized across contexts. We also assess the assumption that individuals with ASD demonstrate excess mouth and diminished eye gaze compared to TD individuals. We find that this assumption receives little support across ages and discuss some factors that might have initially lead to this conjecture. We report that the assessment of the ability to follow the direction of another person's gaze needs to be further examined and that eye-tracking studies add to the evidence that individuals with ASD demonstrate difficulties in interpreting gaze cues. Finally, we highlight innovative data acquisition and analyses that are increasingly shedding light on the more subtle nature of the profound social difficulties experienced by individuals with ASD.