Social Intervention Impacts Action Anticipation, Goal Extraction, and Social Interest in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder


  •  Joshua L. Haworth    
  •  Klaus Libertus    
  •  Rebecca J. Landa    

Abstract

Anticipatory looking in the context of goal-directed actions emerges during the first year of life. However, children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often show diminished social gaze and anticipation while observing goal-directed actions. The current study examined a therapist-mediated social intervention targeting action-anticipation, goal-extraction, and social gaze in 18 children with ASD diagnosis. Before and after the intervention period, children viewed a video displaying a toddler repeatedly placing blocks into a bowl using a cross-body motion. Gaze to the actor’s face and anticipatory gaze to the goal location were analyzed. Results revealed that young children with ASD understand repeated actions and demonstrate goal-extraction even before exposure to the intervention. Further, targeted social intervention experience led to a redistribution of attention in favor of the actor’s face, while retaining action intention comprehension of the block transfer activity. Attention to social aspects during action observation by children with ASD could have favorable cascading effects on social reciprocity, social contingency, and theory of mind development.



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