It's the numbers that get huge attention while talking about autism spectrum disorder. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in every 68 children in the US is diagnosed with autism. There are several advocacy groups that do a lot of work to spread awareness about the disorder, and they often support families with autistic children and lobby for services in communities and schools.
Rather than a particular condition, autism is a spectrum disorder and manifests differently among the affected people. Functional impairment in a child's communication mechanism and social interaction, along with repetitive or restrictive behaviors, are the most common problems. Children with autism spectrum disorder usually have trouble concentrating, follow routines, and face difficulty in school, particularly regarding conversation and making friends.
A new study in the US recently carried out research on a typical problem among people with autism: eye contact. It's difficult for most children, and researchers tried to find out on eye tracking and what it means to those with autism spectrum disorder.
Participants in the research included 18 neurotypical children and 17 children with autism spectrum disorder, aged between five and 11 years of age. During the online video conversation, an eye tracker system was used to track what the person was looking at when they were viewing something on the screen, using bounced infrared light off the retina. The researchers recorded the X and Y coordinates of the eyes. At times when the conversation was pretty ordinary, like what they did for work or how was the weather, most children with autism spectrum disorder were able to make proper eye contact. But it was expected lower compared to adults.
When the conversation topic was more emotionally charged, like what they felt sad or scary about, the eye contact of the children shifted to the mouth. More shift to the chin or mouth and less eye contact, mean a higher correlation among children with a greater severity of the disorder, along with poor executive function and intellectual ability.
Experts say that the subject of your conversation really matters to children with autism spectrum disorder. Simply change some words by speaking about what people do, as against how they feel, and it can have a major impact on where the eyes would hunt for information. For the children with autism, an emotional conversation causes a higher load on the working memory. In fact, it overloads the brain's information processing function.
It was for the first time that a study on autism used eye tracking technology to determine the extent of the disorder among children and adults. The team of researchers hopes that their findings would encourage people and concerned quarters to scour for ways to understand people with autism better, and how they see the world.
Understanding people with autism is the first call of action to forge a more inclusive world for them. Such people are usually hesitant to go out and mix with the world. More research is required on what can be done to cede a better and a convenive world to autistic people.