Why People With Autism Rarely Make Eye Contact

 



When making eye contact, those with ASD exhibit much less dorsal parietal brain activity than people who are not autistic.




Making eye contact with others is difficult for people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in casual situations.


Despite the fact that eye contact is a crucial component of everyday interactions, the difficulty to simultaneously photograph the brains of two individuals has prevented scientists from researching the neurological underpinnings of live social interaction involving eye contact in ASD.


However, Yale researchers have pinpointed particular brain regions in the dorsal parietal region of the brain connected to the social symptomatology of autism utilizing cutting-edge technology that enables imaging of two individuals while they are in live and natural situations.


These brain responses to live face and eye contact may serve as a biomarker for the diagnosis of ASD as well as a test of the effectiveness of treatments for autism, according to a study published Nov. 9 in the journal PLOS ONE.


Joy Hirsch, co-corresponding author and the Elizabeth Mears and House Jameson Professor of Psychiatry, Comparative Medicine, and Neuroscience at Yale, said, "Our brains are hungry for information about other people, and we need to understand how these social mechanisms operate in the context of a real and interactive world in both typically developed individuals as well as individuals with ASD."


Using functional near-infrared spectroscopy, a non-invasive optical neuroimaging technique, the Yale team, led by Hirsch and James McPartland, Harris Professor at the Yale Child Study Center, examined brain activity during brief social interactions between pairs of adults, each of whom included a typical participant and one with ASD.



The researchers discovered that persons with ASD displayed considerably less dorsal parietal cortex activity during eye contact than participants without ASD. Image is freely available to use.

Both participants wore hats equipped with a variety of sensors that sent light into their brains while simultaneously monitoring changes in light signals that revealed information about the activity of their brains during face-to-face and eye contact.


The researchers discovered that persons with ASD displayed considerably less dorsal parietal cortex activity during eye contact than participants without ASD.


Additionally, the less activity in this area of the brain was seen, the more severe the overall social symptoms of ASD as determined by ADOS (Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, 2nd Edition) scores. Real eye-to-eye contact caused synchronized neural activity in these regions between normal people, while looking at a video face did not.


The absence of this expected increase in neural connectivity in ASD is consistent with the challenges faced in social interactions.


We now know more about the neurological underpinnings of typical social interactions as well as the neurobiology of autism and social differences, according to Hirsch.

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