Children with autism may shy away from eye contact because they perceive even the most familiar face as an uncomfortable threat, according to a report in the March 6 online Nature Neuroscience, which detailed two separate, but related, studies. Tracking the correlation between eye movements and brain activity, Kim Dalton, PhD, and colleagues found that the amygdala shows activation to an abnormal extent in children with autism when they are directly gazing at a non-threatening face. The researchers also reported that because autistic children avert eye contact, the brain’s fusiform region, which is critical for face perception, is less active than it would be during a normally developing child’s stare.
For many decades, eye-tracking has been used to investigate gaze behavior in the normal population. Recent studies have extended its use to individuals with disorders on the autism spectrum. Such studies typically focus on the processing of socially salient stimuli. In this review, we discuss the potential for this technique to reveal the strategies adopted by individuals with high-functioning autism when processing social information. Studies suggest that eye-tracking techniques have the potential to offer insight into the downstream difficulties in everyday social interaction which such individuals experience.
While searching for a gaze tracking hardware/software in order to better understand drivers/driving for our entry in the Grand Challenge Race, I was talking to one of the manufacturers of eye tracking software (Eyelink, SMI and Seeing Machine) and found out that there was not much awareness with regards to issues of autism and some of the solution devised for the eye tracking business.
Enlisting Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor and a high-tech eye-tracking device developed for the military, researchers at Yale ran experiments that came closer than anything yet to offering a look at the world as seen through the eyes of people with autism.
In one experiment, described in the current issue of The American Journal of Psychiatry, the researchers compared the eye movements of a highly intelligent autistic adult and a control subject of the same age, sex and I.Q. as they watched the relentless emotional conflicts of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"