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Investigating eye movement patterns, language, and social ability in children with autism spectrum disorder

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 March 2014

Steven D. Stagg*
Anglia Ruskin University
Karina J. Linnell
Goldsmiths, University of London
Pamela Heaton
Goldsmiths, University of London
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Steven Stagg, Department of Psychology, Anglia Ruskin University, East Road, Cambridge CB1 1PT, UK; E-mail:


Although all intellectually high-functioning children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) display core social and communication deficits, some develop language within a normative timescale and others experience significant delays and subsequent language impairment. Early attention to social stimuli plays an important role in the emergence of language, and reduced attention to faces has been documented in infants later diagnosed with ASD. We investigated the extent to which patterns of attention to social stimuli would differentiate early and late language onset groups. Children with ASD (mean age = 10 years) differing on language onset timing (late/normal) and a typically developing comparison group completed a task in which visual attention to interacting and noninteracting human figures was mapped using eye tracking. Correlations on visual attention data and results from tests measuring current social and language ability were conducted. Patterns of visual attention did not distinguish typically developing children and ASD children with normal language onset. Children with ASD and late language onset showed significantly reduced attention to salient social stimuli. Associations between current language ability and social attention were observed. Delay in language onset is associated with current language skills as well as with specific eye-tracking patterns.

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Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

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