Toddlers with autism are oblivious to the social information in the eyes, but don’t actively avoid meeting another person’s gaze, according to a new study1.
The findings support one side of a long-standing debate: Do children with autism tend not to look others in the eye because they are uninterested or because they find eye contact unpleasant?
If children with autism dislike making eye contact, treatments could incorporate ways to alleviate the discomfort. But if eye contact is merely unimportant to the children, parents and therapists could help them understand why it is important in typical social interactions.
The lack-of-interest hypothesis is consistent with the social motivation theory, which holds that a broad disinterest in social information underlies autism features. On the other hand, anecdotal reports from people with autism suggest that they find eye contact unpleasant. Studies that track eye movements as people view faces have provided support for both hypotheses.