Attempting to “Increase Intake from the Input”: Attention and Word Learning in Children with Autism

Previous work has demonstrated that social attention is related to early language abilities. We explored whether we can facilitate word learning among children with autism by directing attention to areas of the scene that have been demonstrated as relevant for successful word learning. We tracked eye movements to faces and objects while children watched videos of a woman teaching them new words. Test trials measured participants’ recognition of these novel word-object pairings. Results indicate that for children with autism and typically developing children, pointing to the speaker’s mouth while labeling a novel object impaired performance, likely because it distracted participants from the target object. In contrast, for children with autism, holding the object close to the speaker’s mouth improved performance.

Keywords: Attention to faces; Autism; Eye-tracking; Joint attention; Word-learning.