Social visual attention as a treatment outcome: evaluating the social games for autistic adolescents (SAGA) intervention

K. Suzanne Scherf, Jason W. Griffin, Charles F. Geier, Joshua M. Smyth

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Abstract

A core feature of autism involves difficulty perceiving and interpreting eye gaze shifts as nonverbal communicative signals. A hypothesis about the origins of this phenotype is that it emerges from developmentally different social visual attention (SVA). We developed Social Games for Autistic Adolescents (SAGA; Scherf et al. BMJ Open 8(9):e023682, 2018) as a serious game intervention for autistic individuals to discover the significance of eye gaze cues. Previously, we demonstrated the effectiveness of SAGA to improve the perception and understanding of eye gaze cues and social skills for autistic adolescents (Griffin et al. JCPP Adv 1(3):e12041, 2021). Here, we determine whether increases in social visual attention to faces and/or target gazed-at objects, as measured via eye tracking during the same Gaze Perception task in the same study sample, moderated this improvement. In contrast to predictions, SVA to faces did not differentially increase for the treatment group. Instead, both groups evinced a small increase in SVA to faces over time. Second, Prior to the SAGA intervention, attention to faces failed to predict performance in the Gaze Perception task for both the treatment and standard care control groups. However, at post-test, autistic adolescents in the treatment group were more likely to identify the object of directed gaze when they attended longer to faces and longer to target objects. Importantly, this is the first study to measure social visual attention via eye tracking as a treatment response in an RCT for autism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number619
JournalScientific reports
Volume14
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General

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