Gaze following, gaze reading, and word learning in children at risk for autism.
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.