Social Perception in Children with Autism and Asperger Syndrome
One of the major categories used to diagnose Autism is impairment in social functioning manifest in lack of eye-contact and diminished interaction with others. Recent eye-tracking studies have proved inconclusive in confirming this, showing both a preference for human figures over objects in children with ASD (van der Geest, Kemner, Camfferman, Verbaten & van Engeland, 2002) and abnormal attention to social stimuli (Klin, Jones, Schultz, Volkmar, & Cohen, 2002). The aim of this study was to see if children with ASD, show normal patterns of eye-movement when faced with a complex choice of social stimuli and whether children diagnosed with High Functioning Autism and Asperger Syndrome would show equivalent performance. Design: The study used eye-tracking technology to record the amount of dwell time children gave to sets of social stimuli.
13 children with HFA, 12 children with AS, and 12 neurotypical children.
Children were presented with two sets of figures displayed on a monitor for 10 seconds whilst eye-movements were recorded; the figures depicted people in interaction and people standing back to back.
The ASD group show similar patterns of looking to the head region of the figures as the control group although dwell time is lower for the clinical group. When analysed as two separate groups the AS group displayed similar looking patterns and dwell times as the control group whereas the HFA group showed qualitative rather than quantitative difference to the AS group and both a qualitative and quantitative difference when compared to the control group.
These results suggest a difference in AS and HFA in relation to the processing of scenes of social interaction.