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Joint Attention in Development: Insights from Children with Autism and Infant Siblings
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Psychology. Uppsala Child & Babylab.
2017 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Compared to other children, children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are known to engage less in joint attention - the sharing of attention between two individuals toward a common object or event. Joint attention behaviors - for example gaze following, alternating gaze, and pointing - play an important role in early development, as they provide a foundation for learning and social interaction. Study I and Study II focused on infant siblings of children with ASD. These infants, often termed high risk (HR) infants, have an increased probability of receiving a later ASD diagnosis. Studying them therefore allows for the detection of early signs of ASD. Live eye tracking was used to investigate different joint attention behaviors at 10 months of age. Study I showed that omitting the head movement that usually accompany experimenters’ eye gaze shifts in similar designs reduced gaze following performance in the HR group, but not in a group of infants at low risk (LR) for ASD. HR infants may thus be less sensitive to eye information, or may need more salient cues in order to follow gaze optimally. Study II focused on the infants’ tendency to initiate joint attention by alternating their gaze between a person and an event. LR infants engaged more in alternating gaze than HR infants, and less alternating gaze in infancy was associated with more ASD symptoms at 18 months. This relation remained when controlling for visual disengagement and general social interest in infancy. Study III explored the role of joint attention later in development, by investigating the microstructure of the looking behaviors of autistic and typically developing children (~6 years old). The results indicated that seeing somebody look at an object influenced the processing of that object less in autistic children than in the typically developing controls. Both groups followed gaze effectively, suggesting that differences in joint attention at this age may be subtle, but detectable with eye tracking technology. Together, the studies contribute to our understanding of the role that joint attention atypicalities play both in the early development of infants at risk for ASD, and later in the development of children with a confirmed diagnosis.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, 2017. , p. 91
Series
Digital Comprehensive Summaries of Uppsala Dissertations from the Faculty of Social Sciences, ISSN 1652-9030 ; 145
Keywords [en]
Autism Spectrum Disorder, Joint Attention, Gaze following, Alternating gaze, Social cognition, Eye tracking, Infant siblings
National Category
Psychology (excluding Applied Psychology)
Research subject
Psychology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-327117ISBN: 978-91-513-0020-7 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-327117DiVA, id: diva2:1129670
Public defence
2017-09-22, Sal IV, Universitetshuset, Biskopsgatan 3, Uppsala, 13:15 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2017-08-31 Created: 2017-08-05 Last updated: 2017-09-08
List of papers
1. Altered gaze following during live interaction in infants at risk for autism: An eye tracking study
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Altered gaze following during live interaction in infants at risk for autism: An eye tracking study
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2016 (English)In: Molecular Autism, ISSN 2040-2392, Vol. 7, article id 12Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Background: The ability to follow gaze is an important prerequisite for joint attention, which is often compromised in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The direction of both the head and eyes provides cues to other people's attention direction, but previous studies have not separated these factors and their relation to ASD susceptibility. Development of gaze following typically occurs before ASD diagnosis is possible, and studies of high-risk populations are therefore important. Methods: Eye tracking was used to assess gaze following during interaction in a group of 10-month-old infants at high familial risk for ASD (high-risk group) as well as a group of infants with no family history of ASD (low-risk group). The infants watched an experimenter gaze at objects in the periphery. Performance was compared across two conditions: one in which the experimenter moved both the eyes and head toward the objects (Eyes and Head condition) and one that involved movement of the eyes only (Eyes Only condition). Results: A group by condition interaction effect was found. Specifically, whereas gaze following accuracy was comparable across the two conditions in the low-risk group, infants in the high-risk group were more likely to follow gaze in the Eyes and Head condition than in the Eyes Only condition. Conclusions: In an ecologically valid social situation, responses to basic non-verbal orienting cues were found to be altered in infants at risk for ASD. The results indicate that infants at risk for ASD may rely disproportionally on information from the head when following gaze and point to the importance of separating information from the eyes and the head when studying social perception in ASD.

Keywords
Autism; Gaze following; Joint attention; Early development; Neurodevelopmental disorders; Social cognition; Communication; Younger siblings
National Category
Psychology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-275580 (URN)10.1186/s13229-016-0069-9 (DOI)000368885200001 ()26819699 (PubMedID)
Funder
Swedish Research Council, 259-2012-24Swedish Research Council, 2015-03670Swedish Research Council, 523-2009-7054Riksbankens Jubileumsfond, P12-0270:1Riksbankens Jubileumsfond, NHS14-1802:1EU, European Research Council, 312292
Available from: 2016-02-04 Created: 2016-02-04 Last updated: 2017-11-30Bibliographically approved
2. Reduced alternating gaze during social interaction in infancy is associated with elevated symptoms of autism in toddlerhood
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Reduced alternating gaze during social interaction in infancy is associated with elevated symptoms of autism in toddlerhood
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2018 (English)In: Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, ISSN 0091-0627, E-ISSN 1573-2835, Vol. 46, no 7, p. 1547-1561Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

In typical development, infants often alternate their gaze between their interaction partners and interesting stimuli, increasing the probability of joint attention toward surrounding objects and creating opportunities for communication and learning. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have been found to engage less in behaviors that can initiate joint attention compared to typically developing children, but the role of such atypicalities in the development of ASD during infancy is not fully understood. Here, using eye tracking technology in a live setting, we show that 10-month-olds at high familial risk for ASD engage less in alternating gaze during interaction with an adult compared to low risk infants. These differences could not be explained by low general social preference or slow visual disengagement, as the groups performed similarly in these respects. We also found that less alternating gaze at 10 months was associated with more ASD symptoms and less showing and pointing at 18 months. These relations were similar in both the high risk and the low risk groups, and remained when controlling for general social preference and disengagement latencies. This study shows that atypicalities in alternating gaze in infants at high risk for ASD emerge already during the first 10 months of life - a finding with theoretical as well as potential practical implications.

National Category
Psychology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-327116 (URN)10.1007/s10802-017-0388-0 (DOI)000443697800014 ()29527625 (PubMedID)
Funder
Swedish Research Council, 2015-03670Swedish Research Council, 523-2009-7054Swedish Research Council FormasVINNOVA, 259-2012-24EU, European Research Council, StG: CACTUS 312292Riksbankens Jubileumsfond, P12-0270:1Riksbankens Jubileumsfond, NHS14-1802:1
Available from: 2017-08-03 Created: 2017-08-03 Last updated: 2018-10-29Bibliographically approved
3. Gaze Following in Children with Autism: Do High Interest Objects Boost Performance?
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Gaze Following in Children with Autism: Do High Interest Objects Boost Performance?
2017 (English)In: Journal of autism and developmental disorders, ISSN 0162-3257, E-ISSN 1573-3432, Vol. 47, no 3, p. 626-635Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

This study tested whether including objects perceived as highly interesting by children with autism during a gaze following task would result in increased first fixation durations on the target objects. It has previously been found that autistic children differentiate less between an object another person attends to and unattended objects in terms of this measure.  Less differentiation between attended and unattended objects in ASD as compared to control children was found in a baseline condition, but not in the high interest condition. However, typically developing children differentiated less between attended and unattended objects in the high interest condition than in the baseline condition, possibly reflecting reduced influence of gaze cues on object processing when objects themselves are highly interesting.

Keywords
Gaze following, Joint attention, Circumscribed interests, Communication, Social cognition
National Category
Psychology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-313736 (URN)10.1007/s10803-016-2955-6 (DOI)000396815400011 ()27987062 (PubMedID)
Funder
Swedish Research Council, 2015-03670Riksbankens Jubileumsfond, NHS14-1802:1The Karolinska Institutet's Research Foundation
Available from: 2017-01-23 Created: 2017-01-23 Last updated: 2017-08-05Bibliographically approved

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