A new study offers a glimpse of the world through the eyes of a person with autism and reminds us of the beauty of diverse perspectives.
Researchers from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) used images and eye-tracking technology to investigate how visual input is interpreted in the brain of someone with autism.
The work, detailed in a study published in the Oct. 22 issue of the journal “Neuron,” examined the validity of the belief that those with ASD often miss facial cues, which contributes to their difficulty interacting in social situations, according to the Caltech website.
A team of researchers showed 700 images to 39 subjects. Twenty of the subjects were “high-functioning” individuals with ASD, and 19 were control, or “neurotypical.” Each subject viewed an image for three seconds while an eye-tracking device recorded their attention patterns on different parts of the pictures.
In the images below, the left side (labelled “B”) shows the focus patten of a person with autism, and the right is the control group.
“Among other findings, our work shows that the story is not as simple as saying ‘people with ASD don’t look normally at faces.’ They don’t look at most things in a typical way,” Ralph Adolphs, Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience and professor of biology, said on the Caltech website “Indeed, the researchers found that people with ASD attend more to nonsocial images, to simple edges and patterns in those images, than to the faces of people.”
The new study showed that individuals with ASD were less drawn to faces than control subjects were, but also that they they were strongly attracted to the center of images, regardless of what was there.
For example, in the image below, showing two people talking with one facing the camera and the other facing away, control subjects concentrated on the visible face, whereas ASD subjects attended equally to the face and the back of the other person’s head.
Caltech hopes this research may eventually may help doctors diagnose the various forms of the disorder.
“Looking around the natural world, we all can see that diversity is the norm,” Rose Jochum, director of internal initiatives for Autism Society, told The Mighty in an email. “The world was created so that every single snowflake is unique, so, of course, every single one of us, ‘neurodiverse’ or ‘neurotypical,’ is unique as well.”
h/t HuffPost Science