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Research and reports

Could eye-controlled games enhance attentional development in autistic children?

Resource Details

  • Written by

    Estefania Dominguez

  • Read time

    2 min

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental condition that can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral difficulties. One of the key challenges of children with ASD is the impairments in attention. The ability of a child to guide their attention toward information-rich stimuli is essential for learning and acquiring skills in many domains as they develop. 

Dr. Lori-Ann R. Sacrey, and colleagues compared visual attention patterns in toddlers diagnosed with ASD to their neurotypical (NT) peers using interactive games controlled with their eyes. 

Attention has multiple aspects proven to be altered in ASD children compared to NT children. One of them is joint attention, or the ability of a child to coordinate their attention with another individual on the same object or event. Other aspects are the ability to sustain attention to the same stimuli, as well as the ability to disengage from it. Literature supports that ASD children show fewer episodes of joint attention, prolonged sustained attention, and delays in disengaging from a stimulus.  

In this study, a group of ASD and NT toddlers was tested using computerized games designed to measure sustained attention, disengagement, and cognitive control in children. The novelty of these games is that they use eye tracking to control the games based on toddler’s eye movements, known as gaze contingency. This method allows the child to interact with stimuli that respond and adapt depending on where the child looks on the screen. 

ASD toddlers showed reduced levels of initiating joint attention and longer sustained attention. However, both groups performed similarly on disengaging and cognitive control tasks. These results suggest that autistic toddlers have some attention strengths that could provide a foundation for building attention, communication, and academic skills. 

Together, these results pave the path to continue exploring gaze contingency as an attention intervention methodology for enhancing attentional development in very young children with early features of ASD. Enhancing attention could have longstanding impacts on  various domains, including language acquisition, initiating and maintaining social interactions, and learning in academic settings. 

Cited publication

Sacrey, L.-A. R., Zwaigenbaum, L., Elshamy, Y., Smith, I. M., Brian, J. A., & Wass, S. (2023).  

Comparative strengths and challenges on face-to-face and computer-based attention tasks in autistic and neurotypical toddlers. Autism Research, 1–11.  

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Resource Details

  • Written by

    Estefania Dominguez

  • Read time

    2 min

    Resource type

    • Research and reports

    Tagged products

    • Eye trackers

    Tagged solutions

    • Scientific research


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