10th Dec, 2016

Coventry University researcher uses eye-tracking technology to understand autism and learning difficulties

Coventry Editorial 8th Apr, 2016 Updated: 28th Oct, 2016

A RESEARCHER at Coventry University is using state-of-the-art technology to try to understand how people with learning difficulties and autism look at faces.

Dr Hayley Crawford of the Centre for Research in Psychology, Behaviour and Achievement at Coventry University is using eye-tracking equipment to investigate where men with Fragile X syndrome and autism spectrum disorder look when they look at another person’s face.

It is hoped the research will help discover the best way to help people born with Fragile X and Cornelia de Lange syndromes – both of which are associated with learning difficulties and autism spectrum disorder.

Explaining her research, Dr Crawford said: “We use eye-tracking technology because it doesn’t require a verbal response and is also a very good tool for understanding how people process information.

“For example, we can find out what grabs people’s attention, as this is usually the first thing they look at.”

Dr Crawford and collegues from the University of Birmingham used eye-tracking technology to record eye movements when presented with pictures of faces on a computer screen.

It was found that individuals with Fragile X syndrome spent less time looking at the eye region of faces compared to individuals with autism spectrum disorder, and that people with Fragile X syndrome could tell the difference between positive, negative and neutral emotional expressions.

Dr Crawford explained that as understanding what different facial expressions mean is an important skill, she and her team hope to find out more about the social difficulties those with the syndromes experience and discover ways to help them.

She added: “By highlighting subtle differences in the way in which people with Fragile X syndrome and autism process social information, we are getting closer to being able to suggest that more targeted interventions should be designed for people with Fragile X syndrome and the difficulties they may face.”