Autistic Children Watch Inanimate Objects

Autism spectrum disorder in children related to fixation on inanimate objects

(RxWiki News) Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are known to have difficulty communicating, especially in social situations. Soon researchers may learn how to communicate with them better through eye-tracking technology.

A group of 10 year old children, some with ASD, were shown movie scenes of school-children in social situations. Using eye-tracking technology, researchers were able to find out what the children focused on.

"Autistic children tend to pay closer attention to inanimate objects."

Katherine Rice, Ph.D., of the Marcus Autism Center, led the largest study to date to study social interactions in children with ASD. One hundred and nine children with ASD and 26 children without ASD participated in the study.

The researchers found that the children with ASD were more likely to notice the inanimate objects on the screen, and less likely to be watching the faces of those on screen. In fact, a greater amount of observation of inanimate objects was associated with a more severe social disability.

The researchers also noticed patterns involving the degree and type of ASD. For example, highly verbal children with ASD tended to view people’s mouths more often than the other children.

There are many degrees and unique types of ASD. The researchers hope that measuring and quantifying the disability to help to gain insight to the disorder. "These results help us tease apart some of the vast heterogeneity of the autism spectrum," adds Rice.

The study was published in the March 2012 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.