The importance of the eyes: communication skills in infants of blind parents Academic Article uri icon

abstract

  • The effects of selectively different experience of eye contact and gaze behaviour on the early development of five sighted infants of blind parents were investigated. Infants were assessed longitudinally at 6-10, 12-15 and 24-47 months. Face scanning and gaze following were assessed using eye tracking. In addition, established measures of autistic-like behaviours and standardized tests of cognitive, motor and linguistic development, as well as observations of naturalistic parent-child interaction were collected. These data were compared with those obtained from a larger group of sighted infants of sighted parents. Infants with blind parents did not show an overall decrease in eye contact or gaze following when they observed sighted adults on video or in live interactions, nor did they show any autistic-like behaviours. However, they directed their own eye gaze somewhat less frequently towards their blind mothers and also showed improved performance in visual memory and attention at younger ages. Being reared with significantly reduced experience of eye contact and gaze behaviour does not preclude sighted infants from developing typical gaze processing and other social-communication skills. Indeed, the need to switch between different types of communication strategy may actually enhance other skills during development.

authors

  • Senju, A
  • Tucker, L
  • Pasco, G
  • Hudry, K
  • Elsabbagh, M
  • Charman, T
  • Johnson, MH

publication date

  • April 10, 2013