Unimpaired attentional disengagement in toddlers with autism spectrum disorder. Other Scholarly Work

Fischer, Jason, Smith, Hayley, Martinez-Pedraza, Frances et al. (2016). Unimpaired attentional disengagement in toddlers with autism spectrum disorder. . DEVELOPMENTAL SCIENCE, 19(6), 1095-1103. 10.1111/desc.12386

cited authors

  • Fischer, Jason; Smith, Hayley; Martinez-Pedraza, Frances; Carter, Alice S; Kanwisher, Nancy; Kaldy, Zsuzsa


  • A prominent hypothesis holds that 'sticky' attention early in life in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) limits their ability to explore and learn about the world. Under this hypothesis, the core clinical symptoms of ASD - restricted interests, repetitive behaviors and impaired social/communication abilities - could all result from impaired attentional disengagement during development. However, the existence of disengagement deficits in children with ASD is controversial, and a recent study found no deficit in 5- to 12-year-olds with ASD. Nonetheless, the possibility remains that disengagement is impaired earlier in development in children with ASD, altering their developmental trajectory even if the attentional deficit itself is remediated or compensated for by the time children with ASD reach school age. Here, we tested this possibility by characterizing attentional disengagement in a group of toddlers just diagnosed with ASD (age 21 to 37 months). We found strikingly similar performance between the ASD and age-matched typically developing (TD) toddlers, and no evidence of impaired attentional disengagement. These results show that even at a young age when the clinical symptoms of ASD are first emerging, disengagement abilities are intact. Sticky attention is not a fundamental characteristic of ASD, and probably does not play a causal role in its etiology.

publication date

  • November 1, 2016

published in


  • Attention
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Child Development Disorders, Pervasive
  • Child, Preschool
  • Humans
  • Infant

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)


  • Print-Electronic

start page

  • 1095

end page

  • 1103


  • 19


  • 6