Children with autism often have difficulty making eye contact, and now a new study suggests this may be due in part to how their brains process visual information, rather than being purely a social deficit.
In the study, children with autism showed activity over a larger area of the brain’s cortex when an image was placed in the periphery of their visual field, compared with when the image was placed in the center of their visual field. The opposite was true in children who did not have the disorder.
When a child with autism avoids eye contact, “we are very much inclined to interpret this as a social deficit,” said study researcher John Foxe, a neuroscientist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. “But it may be a much more fundamental issue,” stemming from a reduced ability early in life to control the muscles that govern eye movements, he said.