Gaze following, gaze reading, and word learning in children at-risk for autism

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Gliga, Teodora ; Elsabbagh, Mayada ; Hudry, K. ; Charman, T. ; Johnson, Mark H. (2012)

We investigated gaze following abilities as a prerequisite for word learning, in a population expected to manifest a wide range of individual variability – children with a family history of autism. Three-year-olds with or without a family history of autism took part in a word-learning task that required following gaze to find the correct referent of a novel word. Using an eye-tracker to monitor children’s gaze behavior we show that the ability to follow an adult’s gaze was necessary but not sufficient for successful word learning. Those children that had poor social and communicative skills could follow gaze to the correct object, but did not then learn the word associated with that object. These findings shed light on the conditions that lead to successful or less successful word learning in typical and atypical populations.
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