Characterizing looking behaviours within social scenes: Implications for a social deficit in autism

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) encompasses five neurological disorders that change how the brain processes information. Children and adults with ASD have varying levels of difficulty with social interaction and communication, may exhibit repetitive behaviours, and may have unusual attachments to objects or routines. One form of ASD – classic autism – is the most common neurological disorder affecting children, and usually appears in the first three years of a child’s life. Elina Birmingham is studying the deficiencies that limit the ability of people with ASD to interpret social cues and develop and maintain social interactions. She wants to determine whether these deficits reflect a perceptual inability to process people’s faces (the eyes and mouth, for instance), or a failure to understand and interpret the social cues that are part of social interactions. To do this, she is tracking eye movements to determine how people with ASD respond to social scenes of people interacting and non-social scenes with no interaction. The results should help confirm whether people with autism have the greatest difficulty interpreting social interactions, information that can be used to develop diagnostic and rehabilitation techniques.