By Adrian Galbreth
Using eye-tracking techniques can help to reveal variability in successful social strategies for children with autism spectrum disorders, according to a new study.
Research carried out by Katherine Rice and colleagues from the Marcus Autism Center, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, and Emory University School of Medicine, involved the use of eye-tracking technology to measure the relationship between cognitive and social disability in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and the ability of children with ASD to pay attention to social interactions.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, involved showing a group of 135 children, 109 of whom had ASD, movie scenes of school-age children in age-appropriate social situations.
One set of analyses focused on the differences between children with ASD and typically-developing children through closely matching a subset of those with ASD to typically-developing peers on IQ, gender, and age.
The second set of analyses focused on measures that quantify the broad spectrum of adaptive and maladaptive behaviour in ASD by analyzing variation across all 109 ASD participants.
The expert found that children with ASD were less likely than other children to look at other people's eyes and faces, and were more likely to fixate on bodies and inanimate objects.
According to Dr Rice, the results also revealed the varying ways in which children with ASD use the information they observe.
For the entire group of children with ASD, increased observation of inanimate objects rather than people was associated with more severe social disability, but for some subsets of the autism spectrum, such as highly verbal children with ASD, whose verbal IQs were larger than their nonverbal IQs, increased time staring at other people's mouths was associated with less severe disability.
The expert said the results help us tease apart some of the vast heterogeneity of the autism spectrum.
"For some children, atypical looking patterns may be serving as a compensatory strategy; but for others, these patterns are clearly associated with maladaptive behaviours. Objective, quantitative measures of social disability help us to identify these subsets in a data-driven manner," Dr Rice added.
by Emily Tait