Although less eye contact is a common hallmark of autism, scientists haven't ever quite understood why it happens. Some have speculated that the autistic child finds it stressful and negative, but new research suggests that it's because the child isn't picking up the social cues from eye contact.
In a test on 86 children, around half of whom were newly diagnosed with autism and the rest didn't have the problem, researchers from Emory University carried out eye-tracking exercises and discovered that the autistic children were capable of eye contact, but missed its social significance and so didn't feel so compelled to do so.
"These results go against the idea that young children with autism looked less at other people's eyes than their peers without autism," said lead researcher Warren Jones.
"For children with autism, social signals can be confusing. And as children grow up to be adults, those signals can become even more challenging to understand."