Looking and learning: insights from atypical spontaneous gaze behaviour in autism

Paying attention is a critical first step towards learning. For children in primary school classrooms there can be many things to attend to other than the focus of a lesson, such as visual displays on classroom walls. Emerging evidence highlights how the physical classroom environment, loaded with task irrelevant visual information, can have a detrimental impact on learning for children developing typically. Task-irrelevant information may be particularly distracting for children functioning on the autism spectrum, as studies of social attention with this group have shown an attentional preference for non-social information. I will present the findings from a recent eye-tracking study in which we explored the impact of classroom visual displays on attention and learning for children with and without autism. The presence of visual displays had a significant impact on attention for all children, but to a greater extent for children with ASD. The impact on learning will be discussed as will the role of individual differences in cognition and behaviour.