Atypical deployment of social gaze is present early on in toddlers with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Yet, studies characterizing the developmental dynamic behind it are scarce. Here we used a data-driven method to delineate the developmental change in visual exploration of social interaction over childhood years in autism. Longitudinal eye-tracking data were acquired as children with ASD and their typically developing (TD) peers freely explored complex animated scene. We found divergent moment-to moment gaze patterns in children with ASD compared to their TD peers. This divergence was particularly evident in sequences that displayed social interactions between characters, and even more so in the children with lower developmental and functional levels. Basic visual properties of the animated scene did not accounted for the enhanced divergence. Over childhood years, these differences dramatically increased to become more idiosyncratic. Taken together, these findings suggest that social attention should be targeted early in clinical treatments.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience