Toddlers with Autism Spectrum Disorder are more successful at visual search than typically developing toddlers

Dev Sci. 2011 Sep;14(5):980-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-7687.2011.01053.x. Epub 2011 Apr 25.


Plaisted, O'Riordan and colleagues (Plaisted, O'Riordan & Baron-Cohen, 1998; O'Riordan, 2004) showed that school-age children and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are faster at finding targets in certain types of visual search tasks than typical controls. Currently though, there is very little known about the visual search skills of very young children (1-3-year-olds) - either typically developing or with ASD. We used an eye-tracker to measure looking behavior, providing fine-grained measures of visual search in 2.5-year-old toddlers with and without ASD (this representing the age by which many children may first receive a diagnosis of ASD). Importantly, our paradigm required no verbal instructions or feedback, making the task appropriate for toddlers who are pre- or nonverbal. We found that toddlers with ASD were more successful at finding the target than typically developing, age-matched controls. Further, our paradigm allowed us to estimate the number of items scrutinized per trial, revealing that for large set size conjunctive search, toddlers with ASD scrutinized as many as twice the number of items as typically developing toddlers, in the same amount of time.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attention
  • Autistic Disorder / psychology
  • Child Development Disorders, Pervasive / psychology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition
  • Eye Movements
  • Fixation, Ocular
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual*