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Precursors of Joint Attention Skills in Autism and Related Conditions (funded through NAAR)

Joint attention is considered a basic social skill upon which rest the development of reciprocal communication and thinking about others. Deficits in joint attention are virtually universal in children with autism. Mechanisms underlying joint attention deficits are poorly understood. This study identified and measured precursors of joint attention skills. The researchers focused on spontaneous gaze monitoring, or the capacity for knowing gaze of others to objects and events. The precursors of this capacity were studied, including the capacity for engaging in eye-to-eye attention with others by maintaining eye contact and the capacity for using gaze of others to regulate one’s own behavior. The researchers hoped to identify any differences in profiles of infants with autism from profiles of non-autistic developmentally delayed and typically developing children. This would allow the researchers to specify which abilities are present and which are not, in an effort to breakdown gaze monitoring into its component parts.