In English

Impairments in social communication skills are one of the earliest signs of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). One main feature of young children with ASD is that they do not look at other people’s faces and eyes as much as typically developing (TD) children. In the project, the development of eye contact behaviour in young children with ASD or increased likelihood of ASD is studied.

Current project: Gaze at Toddler

In Gaze at Toddler -project, we will investigate whether the abnormal responses to eye contact can aid the early detection of ASD. The first aim is to examine psychophysiological responses to direct gaze in 16- to 18-month-old toddlers who will later either develop typically or get diagnosed with ASD or other neurodevelopmental disorders. The second aim is to investigate whether the parental guidance would increase the toddler’s initiation of eye contact and level of engagement in toddler with the risk of ASD.

Previous project: Autism and Gaze

In our previous Autism and Gaze -project, we investigated psychophysiological responses to gaze stimuli from 3- to 6-year-old children with ASD and their peers without ASD. We found ASD-specific lack of attentional heart rate orienting response to direct gaze. We also found that children with ASD do not have typical approach motivation -related brain activity (left-sided frontal EEG asymmetry) to direct gaze.

In the previous project, we also piloted a parent-led eye contact-specific intervention. In the intervention, the parents were trained to motivate their children to make eye contact in everyday situations. The findings indicated that the parent-led intervention improved the use of eye contact in short-term (6-month) follow-up and also the level of engagement increased in the long-term (24 month) follow-up.

Research group

Anneli Kylliäinen, PhD, Academy Research Fellow, Principal investigator

Terhi Helminen, PhD, Postdoctoral Researcher, Neuropsychologist

Fiia Takio, PhD, Postdoctoral Researcher, Neuropsychologist

Jenni Lauttia, M.A., PhD Student,

Elina Lehtonen, M.A., PhD Student

National collaborators

Neuropsychologist Mari Muuvila, Child Psychiatry Unit, Tampere University Hospital

Autism spectrum specialized nurse Anneli Koskinen, Pediatric Neurology Unit, Tampere University Hospital

Docent Jukka Leppänen, Infant Cognition Laboratory, Tampere University

Professor, Dr. Jari Hietanen, Human Information Processing (HIP) Laboratory, Tampere University

Professor Johanna Ruusuvuori, Faculty of Social Sciences, Tampere University

Docent Kai Eriksson, MD, PhD and Pediatric Neurologist, Pediatric Neurology Unit, Tampere University Hospital. Faculty of Medicine and Health Technology, Tampere University

MD, Dr. Outi Saarenpää-Heikkilä, Pediatric Neurology Unit, Tampere University Hospital. Faculty of Medicine and Health Technology, Tampere University

Dr. Tuire Sannisto, City of Tampere

International collaborators

Advisory board:

Professor Tony Charman, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN), King’s College, London, UK

Research Fellow Emily Jones, CBCD, Birkbeck College, London of university, UK

Dr. Sue Fletcher-Watson, University of Edinburgh, Scotland

Dr. Petra Warreyn, Ghent University, Belgium

Other international collaborators:

Professor Connie Kasari, University of California, Los Angeles, US

Research Fellow, Dr. Atsushi Senju, CBCD, Birkbeck College, University of London, UK

Post doc researcher, Dr.  Angelina Vernétti, Yale Child Study Center, Yale University, US