Viktorsson C, Bölte S, Falck-Ytter T.
J Autism Dev Disord. 2023 Aug 29. doi: 10.1007/s10803-023-06118-z. Online ahead of print.
When observing other people during naturally paced and dynamic interactions, it is essential to look at specific locations at the right time to extract a maximum of socially informative content. In this study, we aimed to investigate the looking behavior of typically developing toddlers and toddlers later diagnosed with autism when observing other children interact. The sample consisted of 98 toddlers; 22 in a low-likelihood of autism group, 60 in an elevated likelihood of autism group who did not receive a subsequent diagnosis, and 16 in an elevated likelihood group who did receive an autism diagnosis. Participants performed an eye tracking task at 18 months of age and were assessed for diagnostic outcome at 36 months. The video stimuli consisted of two children interacting, where a boy reaches out for a toy and a girl refuses to give it to him. The low likelihood group showed an expected increase in ratio of looking at the girl’s face after the boy requested the toy, as compared to before (t(21) = -3.337, p = .003). Toddlers with later autism showed a significantly lower ratio of looking at the girl’s face during this time window, as compared to the other groups (F(2,91) = 3.698, p = .029). These findings provide new leads on how social gaze may be different in children with autism in everyday life (e.g., kindergarten), and highlight the need of studying the dynamics of gaze on short time scales.