Age trends in visual exploration of social and nonsocial information in children with autism

Jed T. Elison, Noah J. Sasson, Lauren M. Turner-Brown, Gabriel S. Dichter, James W. Bodfish

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Because previous studies of attention in autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have been restricted in age range examined, little is known about how these processes develop over the course of childhood. In this study we examined cross-sectional age effects on patterns of visual attention to social and nonsocial information in 43 typically developing children and 51 children with ASD ranging in age from 2 to 18. Results indicated a sharp increase in visual exploration with age and a decrease in perseverative and detail-focused attention for both groups of children. However, increased age was associated with greater increases in visual exploration for typically developing children than for those children with ASD. The developmental differences were most pronounced for attention to certain nonsocial stimuli as children with ASD demonstrated a disproportionate attentional bias for these stimuli from very early in life. Disproportionate visual attention to certain nonsocial objects relative to social stimuli in ASD spanned from early to late childhood, and thus may represent both an early and a persistent characteristic of the disorder.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)842-851
Number of pages10
JournalResearch in Autism Spectrum Disorders
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2012
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded by R01 MH073402 (Bodfish). JTE was supported by an NRSA award ( 5-T32-HD007376 ) from NICHD to the Carolina Consortium on Human Development at the Center for Developmental Science, UNC. GSD was supported by K23 MH081285. Support was also provided by the Subject Registry Core of the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities ( P30 HD03110 ).


  • Attention
  • Autism
  • Development
  • Eye tracking
  • Visual exploration


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