Using head-mounted eye tracking to examine visual and manual exploration during naturalistic toy play in children with and without autism spectrum disorder

Multimodal exploration of objects during toy play is important for a child’s development and is suggested to be abnormal in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) due to either atypical attention or atypical action. However, little is known about how children with ASD coordinate their visual attention and manual actions during toy play. The current study aims to understand if and in what ways children with ASD generate exploratory behaviors to toys in natural, unconstrained contexts by utilizing head-mounted eye tracking to quantify moment-by-moment attention. We found no differences in how 24- to 48-mo children with and without ASD distribute their visual attention, generate manual action, or coordinate their visual and manual behaviors during toy play with a parent. Our findings suggest an intact ability and willingness of children with ASD to explore toys and suggest that context is important when studying child behavior.