Purpose: A striking characteristic of the social communication deficits in individuals with autism is atypical patterns of eye contact during social interactions. We used eye-tracking technology to evaluate how the number of human figures depicted and the presence of sharing activity between the human figures in still photographs influenced visual attention by individuals with autism, typical development, or Down syndrome. We sought to examine visual attention to the contents of visual scene displays, a growing form of augmentative and alternative communication support. Method: Eye-tracking technology recorded point-of-gaze while participants viewed 32 photographs in which either 2 or 3 human figures were depicted. Sharing activities between these human figures are either present or absent. The sampling rate was 60 Hz; that is, the technology gathered 60 samples of gaze behavior per second, per participant. Gaze behaviors, including latency to fixate and time spent fixating, were quantified. Results: The overall gaze behaviors were quite similar across groups, regardless of the social content depicted. However, individuals with autism were significantly slower than the other groups in latency to first view the human figures, especially when there were 3 people depicted in the photographs (as compared with 2 people). When participants’ own viewing pace was considered, individuals with autism resembled those with Down syndrome. Conclusion: The current study supports the inclusion of social content with various numbers of human figures and sharing activities between human figures into visual scene displays, regardless of the population served. Study design and reporting practices in eye-tracking literature as it relates to autism and Down syndrome are discussed.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Language and Linguistics
- Linguistics and Language
- Speech and Hearing