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Attention during social interaction in children with autism: Comparison to specific language impairment, typical development, and links to social cognition

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Abstract

Eye-tracking studies have shown how people with autism spend significantly less time looking at socially relevant information on-screen compared to those developing typically. This has been suggested to impact on the development of socio-cognitive skills in autism. We present novel evidence of how attention atypicalities in children with autism extend to real-life interaction, in comparison to typically developing (TD) children and children with specific language impairment (SLI). We explored the allocation of attention during social interaction with an interlocutor, and how aspects of attention (awareness checking) related to traditional measures of social cognition (false belief attribution). We found divergent attention allocation patterns across the groups in relation to social cognition ability. Even though children with autism and SLI performed similarly on the socio-cognitive tasks, there were syndrome-specific atypicalities of their attention patterns. Children with SLI were most similar to TD children in terms of prioritising attention to socially pertinent information (eyes, face, awareness checking). Children with autism showed reduced attention to the eyes and face, and slower awareness checking. This study provides unique and timely insight into real-world social gaze (a)typicality in autism, SLI and typical development, its relationship to socio-cognitive ability, and raises important issues for intervention. © 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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Hanley, M., Riby, D. M., McCormack, T., Carty, C., Coyle, L., Crozier, N., … McPhillips, M. (2014). Attention during social interaction in children with autism: Comparison to specific language impairment, typical development, and links to social cognition. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 8(7), 908–924. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rasd.2014.03.020

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