By using the gap overlap task, we investigated disengagement from faces and objects in children (9-17 years old) with and without autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and its neurophysiological correlates. In typically developing (TD) children, faces elicited larger gap effect, an index of attentional engagement, and larger saccade-related event-related potentials (ERPs), compared to objects. In children with ASD, by contrast, neither gap effect nor ERPs differ between faces and objects. Follow-up experiments demonstrated that instructed fixation on the eyes induces larger gap effect for faces in children with ASD, whereas instructed fixation on the mouth can disrupt larger gap effect in TD children. These results suggest a critical role of eye fixation on attentional engagement to faces in both groups.
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