Children With Autism Exhibit Typical Joint Attention During Toy Play With a Parent - Neuroscience News
May 12, 2022 2 mins, 1 sec
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Summary: Young children on the autism spectrum achieved joined attention similar to that of a neurotypical child when playing with their parents.

To understand how children interact with social partners in more comfortable and natural settings, Julia Yurkovic-Harding, an autism researcher at Indiana University, was among the first to use a dual head-mounted eye-tracking method with children with autism to study social interactions between the children and their parents.

“The head-mounted eye tracking allows us to get precision in measuring their visual attention and manual action but allows us to let the children play more naturally,” says Yurkovic-Harding, the co-first author on the study.

This behavior, called gaze following, is a key part of how autism researchers tend to define joint attention.

However, researchers who use head-mounted eye tracking to study the development of typically developing children recently found that children don’t look at their parents’ faces very often when they’re playing with toys together.

An assessment of data gathered during play sessions with a group of 50 kids aged 2 to 4 found that autistic children maintained joint attention at levels consistent with their neurotypical peers.

Additionally, the children with autism also used hand-following rather than gaze-following cues to follow their parent’s attention into joint attention.

The current study found that parents of children with autism spectrum disorder named toys more frequently when they were in joint attention together compared to when they weren’t looking at the same toy.

Yurkovic-Harding and her team hope that by identifying times when kids with autism are able to play in more typical ways, adults can encourage autistic children to do more of these activities and allow for more chances for learning.

“Children with ASD Establish Joint Attention during Free-Flowing Toy Play without Face Looks” by Julia Yurkovic-Harding et al.

Children with ASD Establish Joint Attention during Free-Flowing Toy Play without Face Looks.

While joint attention (JA) as it pertains to autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is often more narrowly operationalized as arising from eye gaze or explicit pointing cues alone, recent evidence demonstrates that JA in natural environments can be achieved more broadly through multiple other pathways beyond gaze and gestures

Here, we use dual head-mounted eye tracking to examine pathways into and characteristics of JA episodes during free-flowing parent-child toy play, comparing children with ASD to typically developing (TD) children


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