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Eye Contact and Autism

Worth, Tammy

Editor(s): Kennedy, Maureen Shawn MA, RN

Author Information
AJN, American Journal of Nursing: November 2008 - Volume 108 - Issue 11 - p 21
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During the first few months of life, infants focus on the faces of their caregivers, learning the cues of social interaction through eye contact. But children with autism tend to focus less on the eyes, suggesting that they learn a different means of socialization early on.

In a study conducted by the Yale Child Study Center in New Haven, Connecticut, researchers attempted to determine whether the amount of eye contact made by children with autism was different from that of other children and whether that measurement could be used to predict levels of social disability. Among 66 two-year-olds studied, 15 had autism or autism spectrum disorder, 36 were normally functioning, and 15 had developmental delays that did not include autism.

The toddlers were shown 10 short videos of actresses looking into a camera and engaging them in games like pat-a-cake and peek-a-boo. Eye-tracking equipment, including a camera programmed to pan and tilt in response to a child's movements, gauged where the children were focusing: on the eyes, mouth, body, or objects. The researchers found that autistic children spent 24% less time focused on the women's eyes and 14% more time focused on their mouths than did the other children. Autistic children also focused more on the women's bodies and on other objects. There was a significant correlation between fixation on the eyes and social ability: children who focused less on the eyes than their counterparts were more socially impaired.

"Babies learn a great deal by exploring the world with their eyes," says Warren Jones, a study coauthor. "If they are actively seeking out nonsocial interaction, they are going to develop along a different pathway."

Figure. Caitlyn
Figure. Caitlyn:
Wheeler, right, takes part in an exercise intended to help kids with Asperger's syndrome feel more comfortable with eye contact in this photo (date unknown). Kids with Asperger's don't have problems with language like those with more serious forms of autism. For them the challenges are more social in nature. They have a hard time understanding body language and facial expressions. They tend to avoid physical contact. And they prefer not to make eye contact.

Tammy Worth


No Medicare reimbursement for three more preventable hospital conditions. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services named three new categories of preventable hospital complications—conditions resulting from medical error or improper care—for which it will no longer reimburse hospitals; eight such complications were named last year. This year's new categories are

* infections of surgical sites after elective procedures, such as bariatric surgery and some orthopedic procedures.

* pulmonary embolism or deep-vein thrombosis after hip replacement or total knee replacement.

* some symptoms of poorly controlled blood glucose levels.

The policy went into effect on October 1.

A new voice for nursing quality and patient safety? The Department of Nursing Education at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences is embarking on a 12-month project to gauge the interest in an organization specifically dedicated to improving the quality and safety of patient care; it would be called the Nursing Quality and Safety Alliance (NQSA). With support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the school will convene representatives from major nursing organizations and others to explore the feasibility of such an alliance. For information, contact Ellen Kurtzman: [email protected].

Jones W, et al. Arch Gen Psychiatry 2008; 65(8):946–54.
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