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Table 1 Selected methods for measuring social attention in individuals with ASD

From: Social attention: a possible early indicator of efficacy in autism clinical trials

  Task description Sample Significant findings Admin time
Behavioral measures     
Social Orienting Task (Dawson et al., 1998) Child is presented social (for example calling name, clapping hands) and non-social (such as car horn, kitchen timer) sounds from four locations around the room. Stimuli are presented for 6 s at matched decibel levels, and delivered once in the child's left and right visual field and once 30° behind the child to the left or right. The frequency with which the child orients to the sound is tallied 20: 4 to 6-year-olds with ASD
19: 4 to 6-year-olds with DS
20: verbal mental age-matched TYP controls
ASD group oriented less to all stimuli than controls. This was more pronounced for social stimuli 15 to 20 min
Social Orienting Continuum and Response Scale (Mosconi et al., 2009) SOC-RS provides ratings for four behaviors related to social orienting: social referencing, joint attention, orienting to name, and social smiling, coded based on videotaped recording of standardized activities administered during the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS). Behaviors are coded as rate/min and converted to z scores, except orienting which is scored as the trial number which orienting occurs. A total score is compiled by averaging standardized ratings 53: 18 to 35-month-olds with ASD; 27 of whom participate 24 months later for follow-up
35: age-matched TYP controls (15 at Time 1 and 20 at Time 2)
Deficits in social referencing, joint attention, and orienting to name observed at 2 years persisted at 4 years of age 30 to 45 min (length of ADOS)
Visual Preference Task (Pierce et al., 2011) Child observes a 1-min video with one side showing geometric patterns and the other side showing children in movement (for example yoga). Total fixation time within each movie type is tallied 37: ASD toddlers
22: DD toddlers
51: TYP toddlers
Toddlers with ASD spent more time fixating on geometric patterns 1 min
Auditory Preference Task (Kuhl et al., 2005) Child is presented with child-directed speech sounds or frequency and amplitude matched non-speech sounds from speakers placed to the left and right of the child. The number of head turns to the side presenting non-speech sounds is tallied 29: 2.5 to 4.5-year-olds with ASD
29: 1 to 4-year-olds mental age-matched TYP controls
ASD group showed greater preference for non-speech sounds than controls 5 min
Electrophysiological measures     
Habituation Task (Guiraud et al., 2011) Child is presented with two different infrequent (11.5% occurrence each) sounds (650 Hz pure tone and white noise) randomly within a sequence of 500-Hz pure tones. Approximately 500 trials are presented. Sound intensity is 70 dB SPL and duration is 100 ms with an inter-stimulus interval of 700 ms. Average amplitude of P150 recorded from central electrodes for repeated and infrequent tones is calculated as measure of neural habituation 35: 9-month-olds with ASD siblings (high risk)
21: 9-month-olds with TYP siblings (low risk)
High-risk infants showed less habituation to repeated tones and reduced sensitivity to changes in tones 10 min
Face N170 Task (Dawson et al., 2004; Webb et al., 2006) Child is presented with static pictures of faces (neutral or fear expressions; familiar and unfamiliar) of 500 ms duration followed by a 500-1000 ms inter-trial interval. Fifty trials of each condition are presented. Average amplitude and latency of prN170, N300 recorded and amplitude of Negative Slow Wave (NSW) from posterior electrodes for all conditions is calculated 29: 3 to 4-year-olds with ASD
22: age-matched TYP controls
ASD children had longer latency to prN170 and failed to show differential amplitude of the N300 and NSW between conditions 10 min
Eye tracking measures     
Visual Attention Task(Klin et al., 2002) Individual views videotape clips of complex social situations while visual fixation patterns are recorded 15: teens and adults with ASD
15: age and verbal IQ matched TYP controls
Individuals with ASD attended less to faces and more to objects relative to controls 10 min
Spontaneous eye blinking (Shultz et al., 2011) Toddlers view a video showing physical movements of objects (for example door on toy wagon) and affective social interactions (such as an argument between children). Instantaneous blink rate and timing of blink inhibition as a function of viewer engagement and stimulus type is recorded 41: 2-year-olds with ASD
52: age-matched TYP controls
TYP toddlers inhibited blinking earlier than ASD toddlers indicating reduced anticipation of upcoming salient information in ASD 2 min
  1. ASD, autism spectrum disorder; DS, Down syndrome; DD, developmental delay; TYP, typical development; FRAX, fragile X syndrome.