Kleberg, J. L., Thorup, E., and Falck-Ytter, T. (2017) Visual orienting in children with autism: hyper-responsiveness to human eyes presented after a brief alerting audio-signal, but hypo-responsiveness to eyes presented without sound Autism Research

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has been associated with reduced orienting to social stimuli such as eyes, but the results are inconsistent. It is not known whether atypicalities in phasic alerting could play a role in putative altered social orienting in ASD. Here, we show that in unisensory (visual) trials, children with ASD are slower to orient to eyes (among distractors) than controls matched for age, sex, and nonverbal IQ. However, in another condition where a brief spatially nonpredictive sound was presented just before the visual targets, this group effect was reversed. Our results indicate that orienting to social versus nonsocial stimuli is differently modulated by phasic alerting mechanisms in young children with ASD.