Gaze aversion in autistic and normal children

Acta Psychiatr Scand. 1976 Mar;53(3):193-210. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0447.1976.tb00074.x.


Autistic children rarely engage in eye contact, and whilst observation suggests this is due to a specific avoidance of eye contact, some experimental studies have challenged this. In this study the effects on autistic and normal children of an adult looking at them with both eyes, with one eye covered, or apparently not looking at them (both eyes covered) were investigated. As expected, autistic children looked more at the adult with his eyes covered, and also engaged in less flight behaviour. They looked less when two eyes were exposed than one, confirming the potency of the two-eye pattern in provoking gaze aversion. Normal children engaged in much more eye contact than the autistic children, with fewer flight behaviours and stereotypies, supporting the hypothesis that autistic children are predominatly flight motivated. Other, sometimes conflicting, results of previous studies are discussed. Teachers and nurses are recommened not to make efforts to engage autistic children even in friendly eye contact as this provokes more flight behaviour.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autistic Disorder*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Escape Reaction
  • Female
  • Gestures
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Time Factors