Gaze Following, Gaze Reading, and Word Learning in Children at Risk for Autism


  • We are very grateful for the enormous contributions BASIS families have made toward this study. We also thank Kim Davies for carefully editing this manuscript. The research is supported by The UK Medical Research Council (G0701484) to M.H. Johnson, a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship to M. Elsabbagh, and the BASIS funding consortium led by Autistica ( and Autism Speaks (1292).

concerning this article should be addressed to Teodora Gliga, Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, Birkbeck College, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HX, UK. Electronic mail may be sent to


This study investigated gaze-following abilities as a prerequisite for word learning, in a population expected to manifest a wide range of social and communicative skills—children with a family history of autism. Fifty-three 3-year-olds with or without a family history of autism took part in a televised word-learning task. Using an eye-tracker to monitor children’s gaze behavior, it was shown that the ability to follow gaze was necessary but not sufficient for successful word learning. Those children who had poor social and communicative skills followed gaze to the labeled object but did not then learn the associated word. These findings shed light on the conditions that lead to successful word learning in typical and atypical populations.