Gaze behavior of pre-adolescent children afflicted with Asperger Syndrome
Keywords:gaze, eye contact, Asperger syndrome, autism, conversation analysis, nonverbal communication
AbstractAsperger syndrome (AS) is a form of high-functioning autism characterized by qualitative impairment in social interaction. People afflicted with AS typically have abnormal nonverbal behaviors which are often manifested by avoiding eye contact. Gaze constitutes an important interactional resource, and an AS person’s tendency to avoid eye contact may affect the fluidity of conversations and cause misunderstandings. For this reason, it is important to know the precise ways in which this avoidance is done, and in what ways it affects the interaction. The objective of this article is to describe the gaze behavior of preadolescent AS children in institutional multiparty conversations. Methodologically, the study is based on conversation analysis and a multimodal study of interaction. The findings show that three main patterns are used for avoiding eye contact: 1) fixing one’s gaze straight ahead; 2) letting one’s gaze wander around; and 3) looking at one’s own hands when speaking. The informants of this study do not look at the interlocutors at all in the beginning or the middle of their turn. However, sometimes they turn to look at the interlocutors at the end of their turn. This proves that these children are able to use gaze as a source of feedback. When listening, looking at the speaker also seems to be easier for them than looking at the listeners when speaking.
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