June 2017
Volume 58, Issue 8
Open Access
ARVO Annual Meeting Abstract  |   June 2017
Optimising visual attention in children with autism spectrum disorder: a comparison of fixation distributions viewing singing and speech
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Larry A Abel
    Optometry & Vision Sciences, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria, Australia
  • Grace Anne Thompson
    Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  • Footnotes
    Commercial Relationships   Larry Abel, None; Grace Thompson, None
  • Footnotes
    Support  Melbourne Neuroscience Institute Interdisciplinary Seed Funding Scheme
Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science June 2017, Vol.58, 865. doi:
  • Views
  • Share
  • Tools
    • Alerts
      This feature is available to authenticated users only.
      Sign In or Create an Account ×
    • Get Citation

      Larry A Abel, Grace Anne Thompson; Optimising visual attention in children with autism spectrum disorder: a comparison of fixation distributions viewing singing and speech. Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. 2017;58(8):865.

      Download citation file:

      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

  • Supplements

Purpose : Many children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are at risk of social isolation and limited social development due to difficulties with gaze and visual attention to people. Studies have shown that children with ASD may prefer music to other stimuli. We hypothesised that a short video of a singer would elicit more attention to the performer, particularly to her face, than a video of her reading a story and that the child’s familiarity with the song and story would enhance attention.

Methods : 16 children aged 7-10 (14 M, 2 F) with ASD took part. Stimuli were 4 videos 1 minute long. Content was a favourite song or story of the child, along with a song and story which were the same for all children. The performer, her clothing, lighting and sound level were the same across tasks. Props were a pair of drums for the songs and a storybook of similar size for the stories. Eye movements were recorded with an Eyelink 1000; areas of interest (AOIs) were defined for the face, prop and body. 3-way repeated measures ANOVAs were used to examine the proportion of total dwell time, the proportion of total fixations and pupil area for each AOI in each trial.

Results : For dwell time proportion, a significant interaction was found for familiarity*AOI (F=7.45, p=.004), with gaze time to the face being increased for familiar trials (Table 1). Similarly, medium*AOI was significant (F=6.01, p=.013), with increased gaze time to the face and body and decreased time to the prop for the songs (Table 2). The same patterns were seen for proportion of fixation counts to the AOIs (familiarity*AOI F=4.97, p =.016; medium*AOI F=10.33, p=.001). For the pupil, only familiarity and AOI were significant; pupils were larger for familiar stimuli (F=16.70, p=.001) and for the face and prop (F=6.8, p=.015), with the body eliciting less dilation.

Conclusions : As hypothesised, the videos of singing attracted children's gaze to the performer more than did those of her reading a story. Familiarity with the material being performed also attracted more attention to her face. Familiarity and gaze to the face also increased arousal, as indexed by pupil dilation. Observation by children with ASD of a singer, particularly one performing their favourite songs, may be a useful intervention for improving their social engagement skills.

This is an abstract that was submitted for the 2017 ARVO Annual Meeting, held in Baltimore, MD, May 7-11, 2017.


Dwell time proportion, familiarity*AOI

Dwell time proportion, familiarity*AOI


Dwell time proportion, medium*AOI

Dwell time proportion, medium*AOI


This PDF is available to Subscribers Only

Sign in or purchase a subscription to access this content. ×

You must be signed into an individual account to use this feature.